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Proposal to dump contaminated water in Cape Cod Bay meets opposition in Plymouth

Spent fuel casks at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Spent fuel casks at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Plymouth residents, politicians and environmental advocates are opposing a proposal that could involve dumping contaminated wastewater into Cape Cod Bay as part of the cleanup of Pilgrim nuclear power plant. Pilgrim shut down in 2019 after nearly 50 years in operation.

The 1.1 million gallons of wastewater were used to cool spent nuclear fuel rods. The water is likely radioactive, though levels haven't been reported publicly. The water also contains non-radioactive pollutants, according to preliminary sampling results discussed at a public meeting in Plymouth on Monday.

The company decommissioning Pilgrim – Holtec – has proposed four options for disposing of the water: trucking it to another facility for disposal; evaporating the water and discharging vapor through the air handling system; long-term onsite storage; or cleaning it up and dumping it into Cape Cod Bay. The last option has raised considerable concerns within the community.

"The overwhelming negative response to Holtec's plan to discharge radioactive waste into Cape Cod Bay reflects a clear demand for greater transparency and accountability to the public," said State Senator Susan Moran at the public meeting on Monday.

"We know the potential for pollutants and dangerous materials being discharged into our water resources to impact public health, local industry and fragile marine ecosystems," Moran said.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which regulates radioactive waste disposal, Holtec may dump wastewater into the Bay as long as the radioactivity is below certain limits.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees non-radioactive pollutants, warned Holtec in a June 17 letter that dumping polluted water in the Bay would be "plainly inconsistent with the unambiguous provisions of the permit."

Holtec Senior Compliance Manager David Noyes said at Monday's meeting that the company has not yet decided how to dispose of the water, and that all four options are still "on the table."

Related:

Barbara Moran Twitter Correspondent, Environment
Barbara Moran is a correspondent on WBUR’s environmental team.

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