Plymouth divided over Pilgrim’s license renewal
Some cite nuclear plant’s safety and terrorism risk, others not that concerned
PLYMOUTH -- Carl Crowley remembers being a little boy at a local community center and leafing through a comic book that explained nuclear power through an illustrated super-hero.
“That was the town’s way to explain to the children what was going on,” Crowley, 46, said Sunday, laughing. “Now, I don’t think something like that would go over well today.”
The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has not gone over well for many residents here since it was built in 1972, but it will be running at least 20 more years, after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the facility’s license by a 3-1 vote on Friday.
The renewal ending a six-year hand-wringing review by the commission of the embattled plant, the longest review in that agency’s history.
Arguments against the plant, located just north of Priscilla Beach, are varied. Some residents say it is a sitting duck, vulnerable to terrorist attack; some wonder about storage of the fuel rods, which have to be slowly water-cooled over years.
Some residents invoke the name of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan that buckled under the force of a massive earthquake and tsunami last year and caused a nuclear crisis.
“We’re completely outraged ... and we will be continuing political organizing and activities to point out to state legislators and the governor that it’s not over yet,” said Meg Sheehan, a business owner and attorney who has worked as a research volunteer since January with the Pilgrim Coalition, a watchdog group for communities surrounding the plant.
“The state, not the NRC, has the final word,” Sheehan said.
She and other residents also cite health concerns among their fears about the plant. Sheehan blames the facility for the deaths of several friends, some to leukemia.
Not all residents are demanding closure of the plant.
Frank Collins, a former nuclear weapons transportation officer who now owns the The Lobster Pound, a small seafood market that overlooks the ocean at Manomet Point Road, said nuclear plants are “necessary going forward.”
He pulls many of his lobsters from the waters in front of his business. “I haven’t seen any effect on the seafood or lobster,” he said. “The water has warmed up, but I think that’s due to climate change.
“I think we’re safe here. I wouldn’t like to see the plant gone. I think that the nuclear plants are relatively safe going forward.”
For Rick Nagle, a retired state trooper, whose house at the closed end of John Alden Road is among the several homes closest to the plant, it was about the tax base and even aesthetics.
“The jury is still out on whether it causes health problems, and you know what, if I had my druthers and we could handle the taxes in town, certainly I’d rather see it shut down,” said Nagle, who works as private investigator.
“Why don’t they be better neighbors and put down some flowers at the entrances, because right now it looks terrible.”
On Friday, Governor Deval Patrick called the NRC’s decision to renew the license, without addressing public and environmental safety issues, troubling.
And Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement that she would attempt to contest the license renewal through the courts because of safety concerns raised about the storage of spent fuel at Pilgrim.
The plant has not experienced any major safety crises, but it has had problems.
In November, the commission required the plant to undergo a yearlong review of safety procedures, after multiple failures among the control room staff last spring forced Pilgrim’s first emergency shutdown in years.
Erik Westwood, 35, grew up in Plymouth and said his mother would always point out the neighborhood nearest to the plant and tell him that people there were selling their homes because their health suffered from it.
On Sunday, he had a yard sale on Taylor Avenue, as crowds of people dressed in bathing suits crossed the street on their way to the nearby beach.
“This area should have high-rises, amusement parks, hotels ... every other place like this has those things,” he said. “We have a bunch of spent fuel rods that are just piling up.”
Brian R. Ballou can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.