Owing to a probable lack of funds for necessary repairs and safety improvements, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will possibly be shut down at some point in the near future, according to the officials involved.
The multimillion dollar safety improvements and repairs in question are federally required actions if the project is to remain open — following the recent downgrading of the facility’s safety rating by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The 43-year-old facility is now ranked as one of the least safe nuclear plants in the US.
“If the corporation finds that the cost of making the improvements of the plant exceed the value of the plant, the corporation may decide to shut the plant down,” stated David Noyes, the director of regulatory and performance improvement at the facility. “No business decision has been made about Pilgrim. We’re looking at specific conditions, and analyzing weaknesses associated with the plant. As of right now, we don’t know the costs.”
It could ended up being the case, though, that the regulatory commission simply decides to shut down the plant regardless of actions taken to address its issues. The regulatory commission currently rates the facility’s level of risk as “low to moderate.”
As the facility currently provides roughly 12.5% of Massachusetts’ electricity, this is all of course not to be taken lightly. But neither is the fact that the facility is only 35 miles from the mega population center of Boston. Roughly 5 million people currently reside within a 50-mile radius around the facility.
This is a point made recently by Governor Charlie Baker in a letter to Entergy (the operating company) officials, urging officials to “make certain that the plant meets the highest safety standards.”
Interestingly, he also noted that that the company “has failed to take appropriate corrective actions to address the causes of several unplanned shutdowns dating back to 2013.”
Here’s a bit more coverage via the Boston Globe:
Baker has said he sees Pilgrim as part of a “balanced approach” to the state’s energy needs, while other state lawmakers have long called for the plant to be closed.
Entergy was awarded a 20-year operating license in 2012 to continue operating Pilgrim, but opponents are hoping to use the downgrade to pressure the company to shutter the plant now. On Wednesday, state Senator Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, met with advocates from the Sierra Club, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and others. They discussed how to advance bills in the Legislature that require the company to pay fees to store its spent nuclear fuels at Pilgrim, and that would force Entergy to show that it has enough money to cover the costs of securing its spent fuel after the plant closes.
Entergy officials have six months to present the NRC with a detailed improvement plan. Commission officials will then send teams of inspectors to the plant to review the causes of the unplanned shutdowns over the past three years and to determine whether equipment needs to be replaced and whether the plant’s management needs to improve safety. The commission bills Entergy for the inspections, which federal officials estimate will cost nearly $2 million.
A couple of final points worth making here are: 1) the basic design of the facility is the same as that of the Fukushima station that is continuing to cause problems in Japan, and 2) Entergy has, as a result, spent some funds in the years since to try and address perhaps latent weaknesses in the design — the company claims to have spent around $70 million on these actions since 2011.
State officials in Massachusetts have yet to comment on what actions would/will be taken to make up for the electricity generation shortfall in the state if the plant closes.
In any case, it is interesting to see that this generation of nuclear power plants is getting to the point where repairs/improvements are too expensive to be worth the life extension. In other words, I think we’re likely to see a gradual decline in nuclear power in the US in the coming decade or so.
Image Credit: Public Domain (Shows how old the facility is, doesn’t it?)