Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo are asking the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to delay re-licensing of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth. The three say they want to wait until "we can all be sure that we have learned what we need to from the experience in Japan."
Officials from Entergy, the company that runs Pilgrim, defended the safety of their plant at a hearing at the State House Wednesday.
The Pilgrim plant is in Murray's district. She pointed out that it sits atop a bluff.
This is the first time since the tsunami in Japan that officials from Entergy have come out in public to defend the Pilgrim plant.
"But will it sustain, can it sustain a storm surge?" Murray asked. "It has in the past. Can it happen in the future as it ages?"
Murray said five years ago, the town's Nuclear Matters Committee asked where the wind would go if there is a release of radiation.
"They said: 'We check with the Weather Channel,' " Murray said. "That doesn't make me feel very good. I would like to see some ongoing monitoring in the direction of the wind. Prevailing winds change. If there is a release, is it going to Duxbury, or is going to go up towards the Boston area? Or is it going to go down to the Cape? We should know things like that. The biggest issue: the on-site storage of spent fuels."
Questions about a storm surge and where the wind might blow if there is ever a release of radioactivity from the plant went unanswered. But officials from Entergy did point out many ways in which they say an accident like the one in Japan couldn't happen here.
This is the first time since the tsunami in Japan that officials from Entergy have come out in public to defend the Pilgrim plant. They listed the differences: In Japan, the cooling systems stopped working when the power went out. Bob Smith, Entergy's vice president in charge of Pilgrim, said that could not happen in Plymouth because there is a backup system to the backup systems.
"We've installed a third diesel generator," Smith said, "separate and remote from the existing emergency diesel generators."
At the Fukushima plant in Japan, the fuel tanks for the backup diesel generators were destroyed by the tsunami. Smith said that couldn't happen at Pilgrim.
"Our fuel tanks are secured and below ground," Smith said.
Smith said Pilgrim's outer containment vessel couldn't blow up the way it did at Fukushima. At Pilgrim, any radioactive steam that built up would be released right through the smokestack and into the atmosphere.
"We installed hardened systems at our facility to allow bypassing of the secondary containment and go right to the stack," Smith said.
Smith did answer that biggest question asked by Murray, the one about storage of spent fuels at Plymouth. Entergy is building dry storage for the spent fuel at the site so that starting in 2014, they can begin taking fuel rods out of the pools they are in now.
The plant's current license expires in 2012. Company officials say they've spent the last five years working on renewing the license. It's not clear if a letter from the state's three top elected officials asking for a delay will make any difference.
This program aired on April 7, 2011.