Holtec says it won't dump radioactive water in Cape Cod Bay in 2022

PLYMOUTH — The company in charge of decommissioning Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station announced Monday that it would not discharge radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay in 2022.

"We wanted to share that in the near term the decision at Pilgrim has been made that the processed water will remain on site, safely stored, and that we will not discharge any processed water in 2022 while this evaluation (of alternative disposal options) is undertaken," according to an emailed statement from Patrick O'Brien, a senior manager for government affairs and communications for Holtec Decommissioning International.

The email said the company appreciated and understood the public's questions and concerns, and "remain committed to an open, transparent process on the decommissioning of Pilgrim Station focused on the health and safety of the public, the environment, and on-site personnel.”

The company decommissioning the closed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth says it will not release radioactive water, which was used to cool components at the facility, into Cape Cod Bay next year.
The company decommissioning the closed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth says it will not release radioactive water, which was used to cool components at the facility, into Cape Cod Bay next year.

The news that releasing as much as 1 million gallons of water used to cool radioactive rods and other components in the spent fuel pool and in other parts of the facility was being considered was announced at a Nov. 22 meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

On Monday, O'Brien reiterated that no decision had been reached on whether to evaporate, discharge or transport the water to another facility.

Radioactive water release plans

But that appeared to contradict an email to U.S. Rep. William Keating's staff last week from Nuclear Regulatory Commission Congressional Affairs Officer Carolyn Wolf that "Holtec has informed the NRC that it plans to discharge liquid effluents sometime in the first quarter of 2022."

At the advisory panel meeting the company said it would be evaluating options over the next six months to a year. Monday's press release committed to at least a year while that process was followed.

Previous story: Pilgrim nuclear plant may release 1M gallons of radioactive water into bay

Holtec and NRC officials said in interviews that radioactivity and other contaminants like metals in the coolant water would be reduced through a filtering process to levels allowed under federal permits before being released, and environmental impacts and levels in the ocean would be monitored. The plant had released treated radioactive water periodically during the course of its operations, most recently in 2017, O'Brien said.

In an interview Monday, Keating said he was hopeful Holtec would honor the pledge not to release any water into Cape Cod Bay in 2022. But he was disappointed that Monday's press release didn't mention public and stakeholder engagement in making that decision, calling it an "obvious omission."

NRC and Holtec have said repeatedly there is no required public comment in making their decision.

"The NDCAP (advisory panel) is the public forum really for the decommissioning, I’m not sure if EPA/DEP/NRC will have anything else," said O'Brien in an email Monday.

More time to study impact on maritime industries

Keating hoped the year delay would allow the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state agencies an opportunity to weigh in.

"It's really important we have this period to really look at this issue because once (the disposal option) is implemented, we can't undo it," Keating said.

in an interviewFriday, Keating said any release of radioactive water from the plant would impact the region's maritime industries including aquaculture, fishing and recreation — potentially through bioaccumulation in the food chain but also by damaging the region's reputation as a source of seafood and recreational opportunities.

Keating advocated trucking the water to an off-site facility and O'Brien had identified an Idaho plant at the advisory panel meeting as one possible site.

Holtec is paying for the Pilgrim cleanup out of a $1.03 billion decommissioning trust fund that ratepayers paid into over time.

During a Dec. 1 Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing on oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., was critical of the agency's handling of decommissioning and lack of public input.

Markey told NRC Chairman Christopher Hanson that his agency has abrogated its responsibility, leaving decisions largely to the private companies that do the work.

"The NRC has decided that the best way to shield itself from criticism is to take itself out of the process," Markey said. He said a new decommissioning rule relegates the agency only to acknowledging receipt of a plan from a private company looking to dismantle a plant.

"It (the NRC) would serve as a glorified filing cabinet. Ceding the job of regulator to the nuclear industry itself is not a win for safety, for communities or for the energy sector," said Markey, who was especially critical the diminished role of public comment.

"I would urge you to insure that there is full NRC and public participation (in vetting decommissioning plans) because the (nuclear power) industry ... has been known to cut corners and ultimately we cannot allow the public safety to be put in jeopardy at all," Markey said.

Contact Doug Fraser at dfraser@capecodonline.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougfrasercct.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Holtec says it won't dump radioactive water in Cape Cod Bay in 2022