Tensions flared at a public meeting Wednesday night in Plymouth about the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant. With less than 75 days until the plant shuts down, residents had a lot of questions for Holtec International, the company trying to buy the plant.
Among them: How much will Holtec pay the plant’s current owner, Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc., for the plant? What does Holtec plan to do with the 1,500 acres of land surrounding the site? And what happens if it runs out of money before it finishes decommissioning the plant?
Sean Mullin, chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, called these questions “very simple” and grew visibly frustrated when Holtec representative Andrea Sterdis didn’t have the information he wanted.
“We’re not talking about selling a paper route,” he said. “You wouldn’t buy a house with this lack of information, and that’s what you’re doing.”
In November, Entergy and Holtec filed a joint license transfer application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If accepted, Holtec will own the Pilgrim plant and be in charge of decommissioning the plant, safely storing 46 years' worth of nuclear waste, and cleaning up the property.
“Will you at some point determine whether you’ll donate the land to the town of Plymouth?” Mullin asked Sterdis.
“Our focus right now is on seeking NRC approval of license transfer, which is a prerequisite to discussing assets like the land,” she responded.
Other questions Mullin asked were deemed “proprietary information” or too far in the future to discuss — answers he called “utterly disappointing” and “unacceptable.”
“We have been patient in listening and waiting but the full lack of transparency is appalling,” he said. “We had told [Holtec] in advance that we wanted to talk about the financial details, and they came in and refused to talk about those details.”
Mullin wasn’t the only frustrated panel member.
“This is one of the most egregious cases of socializing risk and privatizing profits,” former state senator and NDCAP member Dan Wolf said. “The financial risk and the public safety risk is ultimately going to be borne by the public. And the profit is ultimately going to be gained by a small group of investors or a couple of corporations.”
If the license transfer goes through, Holtec will control the plant as well as the decommissioning trust fund, a pot of money ratepayers have been paying into since the plant opened. It’s currently worth more than $1 billion.
Last month, the state and a prominent citizens nuclear watchdog group filed petitions to intervene in the federal review process of the pending Holtec-Entergy deal. Both questioned whether the decommissioning trust fund has enough to get the job done. It’s not clear exactly who will cover the cost if the trust fund isn’t big enough, though critics of the proposed deal speculate the burden will fall on taxpayers.
“If Holtec is actively seeking a license transfer, we should know what we’re buying,” Mullin said.