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Six workers decommissioning Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station exposed to airborne radiation

Workers load radioactive material into a storage cask at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.
file photo
Workers load radioactive material into a storage cask at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

Six workers decommissioning the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station were exposed to airborne radiation in August of 2020, according to a federal inspection report.

The contract workers were wearing air-fed protective suits, and plant employees failed to test the air for radiation.

Henrietta Cosentino, a member of the state’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, said the incident highlights the dangers of radiation at Pilgrim.

“It seems to me that there was carelessness at many levels and … needless to say, it's disturbing,” she said. “I think it speaks to the larger issue, which is that the site is fraught with dangers — for everybody.”

The report also shows other deficiencies, including radioactive material present in sediment on a building roof.

A device used to detect radiation inside the human body was partially inoperable, and inspectors found Pilgrim had few people on the premises who were qualified to run the device.

Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for Pilgrim owner Holtec, called the exposure of workers to airborne radiation disappointing.

“We have the procedure that requires certain levels of air monitoring, and obviously that wasn't followed, which is disappointing,” he said. “It's not something that we expect of our workforce, and we have worked to correct that going forward.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers the air violation to be of “low safety significance,” according to the report.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the dose of radiation the workers received was less than 10 millirem; the annual limit for nuclear plant employees is 5,000 millirem.

The report says Holtec is not being cited for the air violation because the company is taking corrective action and the violation was “not willful or repetitive.”

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.