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Fed Regulators Hear Concerns on Pilgrim Nuclear Plant's Transfer and New Owner

Sarah Mizes-Tan

Members of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission visited Plymouth on Wednesday to hear feedback about creating Citizens Advisory Panels around decommissioning nuclear power plants. Many attending the meeting used the chance to voice frustration and disappointment at the recent decision to allow decommissioning company Holtec to take over ownership of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

The decision was made despite concerns raised by Plymouth's Citizens Advisory Panel, local watchdog groups, and the state's attorney general's office about the company's ability to decommission the plant safely. 

Many took the meeting as an opportunity to voice their disappointment over how Pilgrim's license transfer had been handled, and many pointed out that concerns raised by the Citizens Advisory Panel were ignored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). 

"I say this to make this message clear to Congress, so that people around the country will understand how, despite the goodwill and efforts of local communities, guess what, at the end of the day, we are a defacto spent fuel repository," state senator Vinny deMacedo said. "I don’t believe the NRC was fair in dealing with us in this process. They should have taken time to listen to the community. Everyone was concerned about this, and you still just moved forward, and it really didn’t matter what we thought."

Members of the watchdog group the Cape Downwinders protested outside the meeting, wearing shirts that read "Nuked by the NRC," and chanted, "Safety first." 

Brett Klukan, the NRC's council for Region I, urged commenters to focus less on Pilgrim and more on how they could ask Congress to help advisory panels in the future. But many still felt that the damage had been done. Ken Tavares of the Plymouth Select Board said he felt betrayed by the federal government after their decision. 

"It just shocked me that people on the federal level could do that to us. We have to deal with this.  The road is not over for us," he said.

Nuclear watchdog Mary Lampert said that moving forward, there should be a federal structure in place to better fund Citizens Advisory Panels.

"There is a need for administrative assistance so a robust website can be developed. It’s also important to be able to hire independent experts. Money is critical," she said. 

Local officials on the advisory panel and state legislators had raised concerns over the fact that there may not be enough money in Pilgrim's nuclear decommissioning fund to safely shutter the plant, and that Holtec might stick the town or state with the excess bill.

Also of concern to local officials, Holtec has thus far refused to negotiate about what they plan to do with the land the powerplant sits on.

Nuclear watchdog group Pilgrim Watch and Attorney General Maura Healey's office had submitted requests for a stay in the license process to allow for a hearing on the transfer, but the NRC did not grant the request. 

NRC officials said they would be taking comments made back to Congress.