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Keating says radioactive discharges from Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station could harm Cape Cod Bay

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

US Representative William Keating is sharply criticizing a plan by the owner of the closed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth to discharge radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay, which the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission said could happen early next year.

An official with the commission confirmed to Keating’s office on Wednesday that Holtec International “plans to discharge liquid effluents sometime in the first quarter of 2022 (and will notify the agency beforehand),” as part of the plant’s decommissioning, according to an e-mail Keating shared with the Globe.

A spokesman for the commission did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.


Keating, a Bourne Democrat, said Holtec had not been transparent about its plan to dump the waste.

He said company officials had briefly mentioned that “they might consider disposing of the water from the spent fuel pool” during a shareholders meeting, and a short time later he found out about Holtec’s plan.

“I find it hard to believe that they went from speculative consideration to a few days later, after we pursued this, they said they were doing this, saying they are going to do this in the first quarter of the year, which is just a few weeks away,” Keating said in an interview Friday.

But a spokesman for Holtec said a decision on how to remove radioactive materials from the site is not yet final.

“The earliest we would next be ready to do this would be later in the 1st quarter of 2022,” spokesman Patrick O’Brien said in an e-mail to the Globe. “But [Holtec officials] are exploring all options for disposal at this point and no final decisions have been made.”

O’Brien, said in an e-mail that the liquid released would be “processed water from systems that cooled the plant during operation, and decommissioning” and that such discharges had been made in the past, most recently in 2017.


In a statement released last week, Holtec said it was “evaluating options that include trucking for disposal, evaporation, overboarding [discharging] of treated water or some combination thereof.”

The company said it “would be looking to come up with a final plan over the next 6-12 months, working with state and federal regulatory authorities to ensure compliance, and provide the public ample notice on the final disposition,” the statement said.

Still, Keating sharply criticized the company for even considering discharging waste into Cape Cod Bay. The plant closed in 2019.

The discharge is unnecessary because the waste could instead be trucked out of state, but that is a more expensive option, he said.

Keating said the discharge plan would affect fishing and tourism and could have greater environmental impacts.

“We’re taking their word for it about filtering out waste that they’re dumping there,” Keating said. “There’s a poor oversight structure, based mainly on self-reporting and oversight, with very limited oversight from the NRC.”

O’Brien said the liquid is typically discharged in small batches of 15,000 to 20,000 gallons at a time and there are limits imposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to protect fish and the ocean ecosystem.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Protection issued a final permit in February 2020 covering ongoing wastewater releases at the plant, according to a statement from the EPA.

The agency said that although the plant is shut down, discharges “including non-contact cooling water used to absorb waste heat from the spent fuel pool, process water, and storm water,” were still being released into the bay.


The final permit also set set limits on the amount of discharge and monitoring requirements, according to the statement.

David Abel can be reached at david.abel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.