A very one-sided crowd of about 50 people packed a lecture hall at Cape Cod Community College in Hyannis last night to speak out against a proposed 20-year license renewal of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant just over the town line in Plymouth.
The crowd was there to listen to a panel discussion and voice their opinion that this renewal would be a bad idea.
The panel they came to hear from included Carolyn O’Connor, director of external affairs for ISO New England, the entity that oversees the power grid in the region, state Senator Daniel A. Wolf, and Mary E. Lampert, founder and director of Pilgrim Watch and a longtime health and safety advocate.
Entergy Nuclear, the owner of the Pilgrim plant, declined an invitation to have a representative speak at the forum.
The Pilgrim plant, a 680-megawatt boiling water reactor, began operation in 1972. Its current operating license expires on June 8, 2012. Entergy is seeking to re-license the plant for an additional 20 years.
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission manages a two-track re-licensing process emphasizing plant safety and environmental concerns. To date, the NRC has approved life extensions for all 70 reactors that have submitted re-licensing applications.
The thought of extending Pilgrim’s license raises a host of concerns last night for both Ms. Lampert and Senator Wolf.
“Pilgrim is one of the 23 reactors in the United States that is of the exact same design of the Fukushima reactors,” Ms. Lampert said, in reference to the nuclear disaster that threatened Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit in March of last year. Ms. Lampert went on to point out that in the early 1970s, the NRC stated these types of reactors “were dangerous” because in the event of a pressure buildup, containment vessels in the reactor “were likely to fail.”
Ms. Lampert also accused the federal government of bowing to corporate interests by disregarding the NRC’s own cautionary findings that these types of reactors should not be allowed to operate. “They determined that if that decision were made, that the nuclear power industry in the United States would fail,” she said.
Ms. Lampert also cited a 1990 Massachusetts Department of Health study that pointed out elevated levels of leukemia among residents living in the region around Pilgrim Power.
When it came time for Ms. O’Connor to speak, she pointed out that ISO New England is “resource neutral.”
“We don’t have any particular position on any particular resource,” she explained.
She went on to say that ISO New England does believe “fuel diversity is something that is good” when it comes to managing the power system and the electricity markets.
“It is very important to point out that we are independent from the industry,” she said.
Senator Wolf echoed many of the fears voiced by Ms. Lampert. He also said that a tour of the plant left him with serious concerns about the plant’s vulnerability.
“Some of it has to do with aging technology, and some of it has to do with security,” Mr. Wolf said, choosing not to get into specifics.
Mr. Wolf also said that while he does not believe there will be a problem with Pilgrim Power in the foreseeable future if the plant is re-licensed, he still worries that there is a chance for catastrophe. “The consequences,” he said, “are simply not acceptable, and we should not tolerate it.”
The senator pointed out that Pilgrim Power has been online for 40 years and renewing its license would keep it in operation until it is 60. He then challenged the crowd to take a look at the electrical appliances and equipment in their own homes and find something that is “60-year-old technology.”
Pointing out a pair of 13-year-olds in the audience, Senator Wolf said the public should demand answers to questions about the safety of Pilgrim Power, rather than “kick the can down the road” and leave any potential problems with nuclear power to the next generation to figure out.
“I think we have a responsibility to get the answers to questions and not accept the re-licensing of that plant until those questions are sufficiently and adequately answered,” he said.