Plymouth: Pilgrim plant performance issues; the public has other concerns

The Region I Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a public meeting with Entergy Thursday night to address their 2013 annual assessment of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.

The meeting was held at the Radisson Hotel in Plymouth. The NRC reviewed their assessment and allowed Entergy representatives to present ways they are improving their performance.

After 7,000 hours of inspection last year, Bill Dean, Region I Administrator, said NRC gave the plant a “degraded cornerstone” assessment.

This assessment was due to four shut-downs the plant had last year, which brought it from the lowest and safest “green” rating to the next one up, a “white” rating.

“What we’re trying to do is get the licensee to focus attention on why did you have the year that you had with that type of performance, what are you going to do about it, and what are you going to do to prevent recurrence of those issues and improve performance,” Dean said.

Steve Verrochi, Manager of Pilgrim, said they have implemented a three-pillar “excellence plan” to address the performance issues NRC identified.

“The three pillars are leadership…exceptional equipment performance…and performance improvement,” Verrochi said,”We’re always looking to try to improve ourselves.”

The NRC also expressed an issue with the timeliness of Pilgrim’s response actions to issues.

Verrochi ressponded that it’s all about the leaders’ “intrusiveness” into the issues. “[We] ensure that we drive them to fully understand what the impact is to the station, put the right priorities on them, and then stay involved in follow-up to make sure that they’re happening the way they’re supposed to,” he said.

After NRC and Entergy’s back-and-forth discussion, audience members were given a chance to ask questions and express concerns.

Many citizens were concerned that the plant poses more of a threat than the NRC recognizes.

Anna Baker from the Pilgrim Coalition is concerned that Entergy, the owner of the plant, may be eliminating the offsite emergency planning zone.

“To think that there may  not be an emergency planning zone because Entergy does not want to pay for it is absolutely absurd,” Baker said.

Dean said  Entergy has not submitted anything to eliminate this zone. He added that a lot of analysis of the zone took place after the events of  9/11.

“Several years of analysis involving not only NRC but expert organizations looked at that  particular scenario and we determined that the 10-mile emergency planning zone was still an appropriate planning basis even for a catastrophic rapidly occurring event like that,” Dean said.

Baker is also concerned with the spent fuel problem. ”I think we can all agree in this room that the spent fuel problem is a real problem,” she said, “The nuclear waste site…has really become a nuclear waste dump.”

Other audience concerns included cancer and radiation correlation, rising sea levels, a lack of security, and potential nuclear accidents in the future.

One Kingston resident said the NRC’s attempt to protect the public is “woefully lacking.” Her and others urged the NRC to “look outside the box” beyond their assessments and look at the other, bigger issues.

Going forward, Dean said the NRC will be performing a special inspection of Pilgrim.

“We send a team of our most highly trained inspectors from the region to come into the plant and basically do their own independent root cause assessment,” Dean said.

Dean added that they also look at corrective actions and sustainability.

Verrochi said there is currently no date set for that inspection to take place.

About Samantha Tracey

Samantha Tracey graduated from Salem State University in 2013 with a degree in Journalism. She has been reporting on local issues in a variety of towns: Bridgewater, Abington, Carver, Weymouth, East Bridgewater, Hanson, Halifax, etc. She says growing up on the South Shore has made it interesting now to be covering news in such familiar places.