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43-Year-Old Pilgrim Nuclear Plant In Plymouth To Close Permanently

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth will close no later than June 1, 2019. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth will close no later than June 1, 2019. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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Massachusetts' only nuclear power plant is being shut down.

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth will close no later than June 1, 2019, its Louisiana-based operator announced Tuesday morning.

Entergy Corp. said in a statement it will close the plant, which provides 680 megawatts of energy to Massachusetts, "because of poor market conditions, reduced revenues and increased operational costs."

“The decision to close Pilgrim was incredibly difficult because of the effect on our employees and the communities in which they work and live,” Leo Denault, Entergy’s chairman and CEO, said in the statement.

Pilgrim says it provides 600 full-time jobs for men and women in the area.

Bill Mohl, left, president of Entergy Corp., on Tuesday discusses the planned shutdown of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, as Timothy Mitchell, center, senior vice president of nuclear operations, and John Dent Jr., vice president of Pilgrim, look on. (Jesse Costa/WBUR
Bill Mohl, left, president of Entergy Corp., on Tuesday discusses the planned shutdown of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, as Timothy Mitchell, center, senior vice president of nuclear operations, and John Dent Jr., vice president of Pilgrim, look on. (Jesse Costa/WBUR

Pilgrim began generating electricity in 1972, and in 2012 it was given a new 20-year operating license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

But last month, federal inspectors downgraded the 43-year-old nuclear plant's safety rating to the lowest level and said they would be increasing its oversight. The plant needs millions of dollars in safety improvements.

Entergy said it has notified the operator of the region's electric grid, ISO New England, about its plan to shut down Pilgrim, and that the "exact timing of the shutdown depends on several factors, including further discussion with ISO-NE, and will be decided in the first half of 2016."

After the shutdown, "Pilgrim will transition to decommissioning," the statement said, a process in which the federal government takes possession of spent fuel and removes it from the Plymouth site.

It's a long process.

"They have up to 60 years to complete the work once they permanently shut down," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told WBUR's Newscast Unit. "So there is no question that work will go on for decades after."

In a statement, Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration "will work closely with Pilgrim’s leadership team and federal regulators to ensure that this decision is managed as safely as possible, and we will continue to work with ISO and the other New England Governors to ensure that Massachusetts and New England has the baseload capacity it needs to meet the electric generation needs of the region."

Pilgrim says that through the decommission, "the company will treat employees at the station fairly and assist them through the transition."

But Craig Pinkham, acting president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 369, called on Entergy to avert the planned closure.

"Entergy needs to sharpen its pencil, go back to the drawing board, work with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the people who know this plant best - the utility workers - and come back with a plan to keep this plant running affordably and safely," Pinkham said in a statement.

“The closure of Pilgrim will be a significant loss of carbon-free electricity generation and will offset progress Massachusetts has made in achieving [emission goals]."

Gov. Charlie Baker

Baker also referenced the decision's impact on state emissions goals.

"The closure of Pilgrim will be a significant loss of carbon-free electricity generation and will offset progress Massachusetts has made in achieving the 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, making it more challenging to hit these targets," the governor said in the statement.

Pilgrim says it produces "84 percent of the greenhouse gas free electric generation in the Commonwealth."

One reason Entergy cited for reduced revenues at the Pilgrim plant: "record low natural gas prices, driven by shale gas production."

However, despite the Pilgrim decision, Entergy said in its statement it "remains committed overall to nuclear power, whose benefits include carbon-free, reliable power that is cost effective over the long term."

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, long a critic of nuclear reactor safety, said in a statement that "nuclear power simply cannot compete in the current energy market." He said the Pilgrim closure means "the time is now" to transition to renewable energy sources including wind and solar.

Arlene Williamson, with the anti-nuclear energy group Cape Downwinders, told WBUR's Newscast Unit that the closure is good news, but it doesn't come soon enough. "Another four years is quite frightening to me," she said. "I just can't imagine this nuclear reactor operating with the problems that are almost discovered weekly."

Benjamin Swasey Twitter Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.

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