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Critics Say Pilgrim License Transfer Process Was Insufficient, Lacked Public Involvement

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Massachusetts officials and residents are discontent with the way a special panel handled the license transfer of the recently closed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to its buyer. Some called for a congressional investigation of the panel and its abolition over a lack of public involvement.

Pilgrim ended operations in May after generating power for 47 years. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved the transfer of its license from Entergy to Holtec International in August.

Holtec now has control of the $1 billion decommissioning trust fund that accrued over the years. The energy company says it can decommission the plant in less than a decade. But, nuclear opponents say there is no guarantee the company will, and they are worried Holtec will run out of money before the job is completed.

Diane Turco, of the Cape Downsiders, speaks at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)
Diane Turco, of the Cape Downsiders, speaks at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)

The public meeting in Plymouth was the sixth stop on its nationwide fact-finding mission, mandated by a new law to explore best practices in the decommissioning process. The panel is visiting communities that hosted nuclear power plants. Many critics say the hearings are a sham.

No representatives of Entergy or Holtec spoke at the meeting.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Pilgrim Watch, a watchdog group looking at the nuclear plant, petitioned the NRC to delay approving the transfer of the the license from Entergy to Holtec and hold public hearings. It did not.

Pilgrim Watch director Mary Lampert called the lack of public participation "a joke; we know it is a captured agency." She says her organization will challenge the license transfer in federal court.

Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both of Massachusetts, criticized the lack of public input in the NRC's approval of the license transfer in August. Markey's statement called for Congress to investigate the NRC.

Sean Mullin is the chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP), a state panel formed to advise the governor on matters related to the shutdown. Mullin called the NRC's process "a travesty and a sham, rigged in favor of the nuclear industry," and the panel's meeting in Plymouth "a costly charade" because the public meeting was held after the nuclear license was transferred.

Mullin told the panel that in the future, local citizen panels should not be advisory, but instead have real authority to make decisions.

Former state Sen. Dan Wolf, a member of the NDCAP, said the federal government should mandate hearings before licensing decisions are made. He criticized the process as "disregarding and disrespectful of the public, promoting distrust in democracy."

Diane Turco and several other members of Cape Downwinders, a community group that advocated for Pilgrim's closure, wore T-shirts reading "Nuked by the NRC." Turco called for abolishing the commission and "replacing it with a government agency without any industry involvement."

The NRC panel admonished members of the audience at the start of the meeting that it would not tolerate any threats or demonstrations. There were none.

The NRC panel will present its findings to Congress by June 2020.

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Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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