Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Gas Release Ignites Outrage From Plymouth Fire Chief

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Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Earlier this month, hydrogen gas built up in the generator room at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.

The amount of gas was beyond the federal allowable limit and had to be released into the air. Hydrogen gas is highly flammable — and potentially explosive. It's what blew up the reactors at Fukishima Japan.

And while plant officials knew about the hydrogen release, the coastal town's fire chief said he is outraged that he was not notified beforehand.

'We Should Have Got An Email Or A Phone Call'

"In order to protect the public safety — which is my job — I need to have to get as much information about what is going on as I can possibly get," said Ed Bradley, chief of the Plymouth Fire Department.

The single reactor at Pilgrim had been shut down, because of a broken water valve in the reactor containment building. And the release of hydrogen from cooling generators in another room isn't unusual. The amount released was relatively small, but it had to be reported to federal and state regulators.

Chief Bradley said he didn't find out until three days later, when informed by a reporter from The Cape Cod Times. And in an even bigger surprise to Bradley, the report said Entergy — the owner of the Pilgrim plant — told federal authorities it had notified the chief.

"I went back and talked to everybody that was on-duty that day, and then we were able to check all phone calls on all incoming phone calls, and there was no call, or no notification, from Pilgrim station that there had been a [hydrogen] release," Bradley said.

Patrick O'Brien, spokesman for the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, said he took the call from Bradley.

"We thought they had been notified so until he notified us that they weren't, we thought the proper protocols had been followed," O'Brien said.

Not only did Entergy fail to inform the town's fire department, the company had filed a false report on the matter.

"Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication, in our notification put that we had talked to the Plymouth Fire Department when they weren't [talked to]," O'Brien said.

The Pilgrim plant amended its report to federal regulators. It said the fire department was notified three days after the gas release.

"Which technically, I guess they could say they did that," said Bradley. But, he adds, the reporter from The Cape Cod Times — not someone from the plant — was who informed him of the hydrogen leak.

"They weren't providing me the information," he said. "I had to call down there and pry it out of them, and not having that information was concerning to me."

Chief Bradley isn't alone.

"I would say that this incident, we should have got an email or a phone call to let us know what was happening, and I didn't," said Kevin Nord, fire chief of nearby Duxbury.

But it turns out, according to federal law and state statute nuclear plants aren't required to tell local fire departments if there is a release of potentially explosive hydrogen gas. It's done as a matter of courtesy.

But Nord said now, more than ever, he needs to know.

"The plant, as you know, has been increasingly having difficulties," he said. "You know, it's an old model, it's showing its wear and tear."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ranks the 44-year-old Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station as one of the three worst in the nation.

Next spring, Entergy will spend more than $70 million to refuel the plant one last time, then plans to finally pull the plug on the aging reactor two years later in mid 2019.

This segment aired on September 21, 2016.


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Bruce Gellerman Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman was a journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.



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