With the end of its 40-year license approaching in 2012, the owners of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth have applied for a 20-year extension. But opponents of the plant, including some local and state politicians, question the reactor's safety after three sister reactors in Japan experienced explosions and likely meltdowns this past year. There also is the lingering issue of a tightly packed spent-fuel storage pool at Pilgrim. Finally, there are concerns about the fact that hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors on Cape Cod would have nowhere to go in the event of an emergency. This WGBH News three-part series looks at these issues and others, while discussing how the context for plant relicensing has changed in light of the ongoing crises at Fukushima in Japan.
The owners of the Plymouth Nuclear Power Station are asking for it to be relicensed for another 20 years of service. But the landscape surrounding nuclear power has changed since the disaster in Fukushima, Japan. As regulators consider the request, the debate in the community is heating up.
At Pilgrim, about 3,000 spent fuel rods now sit in a pool of water designed more than 40 years ago to hold only one-third that amount. In Fukushima, spent rods placed in what's called "dry cask storage" fared well during the disaster and were safe, while some rods in “wet pools” melted down. Politicians and activists want Pilgrim's spent rods placed in dry storage, thereby reducing the risk. But it is expensive, and so far the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not required it.
Officials say there is no plan for how Cape Cod could be evacuated in the event of a radiation release. Many residents and tourists would need to shelter in place, and take pills to ward off thyroid cancer. Only about 10,000 of those pills have been distributed, though — and the Cape has about 200,000 permanent residents and over twice as many in the summer.
Additional WGBH News Coverage Of Pilgrim
Pilgrim Nuclear Turns Back On (Dec. 30) — Pilgrim is returning to service after replacing a leaking safety relief valve, a spokesman said on Dec. 30.
Nuclear Plant Shut Down For Second Time In Two Months (Dec. 27) — The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station was shut down on Dec. 26 because a safety relief valve was leaking steam. The reactor was also shut down in mid-November due to mechanical concerns.
Judges Deny Request To Suspend Nuclear Plant Relicensing (Nov. 30) — Federal regulators will not halt a review of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant's bid to extend its operating license, after a three-judge panel this week denied a motion by Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley's office to stop the process.
Coakley Warns Feds Of Nuclear Risks (Mar. 23) — Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley is calling on the federal government to help find alternative storage for spent fuel rods.
(each interview is 10 minutes long)