The company that owns the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station said Thursday that it intends to refuel next year and continue operating the power plant in Plymouth for three more years.
Officials at Entergy Corp. said the plant will close on May 31, 2019.
The company had been weighing whether to shutter the plant next year — as critics had hoped it would — before it would be required to start an expensive refueling process.
The decision means Pilgrim’s 609 employees will continue to work there until the plant closes, but activists say it also means Entergy will continue operating what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has deemed one of the nation’s least-safe reactors.
“We’re pleased that we will be able to keep our team of hardworking, professional employees actively engaged in safe operations for the next three years, and in a return to regular NRC and industry oversight,” John Dent, Pilgrim’s vice president, said in a statement posted on the company’s website.
Local activists who have long opposed the plant’s continued operations said they worry that Entergy is more concerned about its finances than public safety.
“The bottom line is that this decision is about Entergy’s pocketbook — not about public safety,” said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch, a longtime critic of the plant. “This is an old plant, and Entergy is unwilling to spend the money to fix the problems, and the NRC is allowing them to do that. That means we’re in a heightened period of risk.”
Last October, Pilgrim said it would close no later than June 2019, after supplying power to more than a half-million homes and businesses for four decades. The announcement came a month after the NRC designated Pilgrim one of the nation’s three least-safe reactors.
Company officials have said they decided to close the plant because of the plummeting price of a competing fuel, natural gas, and the reluctance of federal and regional officials to provide financial incentives for nuclear power plants.
On Monday, they said they decided to refuel the plant because it was the best way to fulfill their commitments to provide power to the region’s electrical grid. The plant was obliged to supply power through 2019.
“This was the most viable way for us to do that,” said Patrick O’Brien, a Pilgrim spokesman.
Pilgrim’s announcement came after the company and its main union reached a five-year contract agreement that provides 225 employees with a variety of wage, benefit, retention, and severance guarantees.
While many employees are likely to lose their jobs when Pilgrim closes, some will remain during the decommissioning, which can last up to 60 years.
“It’s essential that experienced workers remain on-site to ensure Pilgrim runs safely for the next three years and throughout the decommissioning process, and we’re pleased that this contract ensures important protections for our workers, our communities, and the region,” said Craig A. Pinkham, president of the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 369. “Even though our members are understandably concerned about the future, they remain committed to the continued safe operation of Pilgrim.”
Pilgrim will undergo its last refueling in the spring of 2017. The plant ceases operations while it refuels every other year.
The 2015 refueling outage resulted in a $70 million investment in the plant and hundreds of contractors, Entergy officials said.
The company said it would release a plan to decommission the plant within two years after shutting down, as required by the NRC.
The 680-megawatt plant, which opened in 1972, generates enough electricity to power more than 600,000 homes.
In Plymouth, residents had mixed feelings about Pilgrim’s decision to refuel. Entergy provides about $9 million a year to the town and tens of millions of dollars in additional financial benefits to the region.
Ken Tavares, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he’s happy to have the plant continue to provide revenue to Plymouth, as long as it remains safe.
“We’re placing a lot of trust in the NRC,” he said.
He added: “Knowing there’s an end date takes us out of a black hole. It makes planning and moving forward a lot easier.”