When Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station closes in May of this year, it will mark a turning point for the town of Plymouth, for nuclear power in the region, and for one woman, who’s been working to shut down Pilgrim for three decades.
Mary Lampert is a white-haired, small-framed woman. Sometimes she goes by the nickname “Pixie” – but don’t let all that fool you. She’s been one of the staunchest opponents to the Pilgrim Nuclear power plant since the 1980s. And soon, she may get what she’s been fighting for.
"I'm almost ready to the buy the champagne, but I'm going to hold off until probably May," she said with a smile.
She’s got a dry sense of humor, and in many ways, she’s perfectly poised to be the plant’s biggest opponent. Her two-story home in Duxbury overlooks Cape Cod Bay, and she showed me the view from her bedroom window and pointed out the nuclear power station, framed by tree branches in her yard.
"Architecturally, it's not that objectionable," she said.
Her home is located 6 miles from the power station across open water. The plant was already there when she and her family moved to this quaint neighborhood in the 1980s. Pilgrim was built in 1972, but had been closed for a number of years due to repeated equipment failures. Even back then, it was listed as one of the worst-run power stations in the country.
"We were told at the time that Pilgrim was in a forced shutdown by the regulators and it would never open," Lampert said. "However, it did re-open, on the last day of 1989, and has been chugging along ever since."
She had young children back then, and she worried for their safety. She sent them to school outside of Duxbury, and threw herself into researching Pilgrim. Everything she read made her determined to get the plant shut down again. She became an outspoken opponent, often advocating for a safer way to store the plant's used radioactive fuel rods.
"There are lots of things that can and should be done, not to mention the big one: spent fuel storage," she said during a Pilgrim meeting in 2011. "The way it is stored now is unsafe, period."
Though the plant is closing in the next six months, Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists said that nuclear watchdogs like himself and Mary Lampert have more reason to be paying attention now.
"Just because the reactor is shut down doesn't mean the utility, or the public, should let their guard down," Lyman said.
He and Lampert are especially concerned about who will manage that spent nuclear fuel, which is expected to be stored on site for the next half a century or more. Lyman said these rods filled with used uranium could be vulnerable to sea level rise, mismanagement, or even a terrorist attack.
"For one thing, the spent nuclear fuel stored at the Pilgrim site needs to be protected and managed appropriately," he said. "The potential for a spent fuel accident remains high."
For Lampert, her constant presence in meetings and at protests at the statehouse has made her one of the loudest voices of Pilgrim opposition. Though plant managers and politicians don’t always agree with her, they recognize and respect her, and being involved for three decades means she’s been in the fray longer than many others.
"Well, some are dead – I've outlived some!" she said.
She admits that many regulations around the plant haven't gone the way she would have liked, but that doesn't dismay her.
"What keeps me going is, I never have had the unrealistic expectation that if I do this and work really hard, that that's it, that's going to be the magic bullet," she said. "And then, of course, it isn't."
With the plant’s closing in May, a significant chapter in Mary Lampert’s life will finish, but she knows her work isn’t done – a new chapter is just beginning.