Pilgrim no longer required to pay state for regulatory costs
For the first time since it opened in the 1970s, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is no longer required to pay the state to cope with potential emergencies, ensure public safety, and comply with environmental laws.
The plant in Plymouth stopped generating electricity in May, but it still has nearly 3,000 highly radioactive fuel rods cooling in its spent-fuel pools and more than 1,000 encased nearby in 17 massive steel-and-concrete drums known as dry casks. It will be years before the rods are cool enough to store in casks, which could remain on the property indefinitely.
But state law requires only active plants to cover the costs of state oversight, from monitoring the air for radioactive particles to maintaining fresh stocks of iodine pills in case of a meltdown.
State senators recently approved a budget amendment that would have required Pilgrim to continue making payments of more than $1 million a year. But the measure was stripped late last month in a conference committee before the budget was sent to Governor Charlie Baker.
That decision has infuriated some lawmakers and others who live near Pilgrim, who worry the state will no longer be able to do the work necessary to ensure the plant doesn’t pose a threat to the public.
“So long as health and safety risks remain, the owner of this plant should be responsible for paying for emergency response, environmental monitoring, and other health and safety protections,” said state Senator Julian Cyr, a Truro Democrat who sponsored the amendment. “This shouldn’t fall to the Massachusetts taxpayer.”
Cyr and others said they suspect the amendment was removed as a result of lobbying by Entergy Corp., the Louisiana-based energy conglomerate that has owned Pilgrim since 1999. Officials at Energy, which is seeking approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to sell the plant, declined to comment on whether they lobbied against the provision.
They noted that the company has already paid the state more than $1.6 million for the oversight in the current fiscal year. That money mainly pays for monitoring and training programs conducted by the state Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
“Entergy continues to work collaboratively with the [agencies] and the towns supporting the Pilgrim emergency plan,” said Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for Pilgrim, in a statement. “It is Entergy’s intent to be fully compliant with our NRC-approved emergency plan, and future changes, as we transition into each phase of decommissioning.”
Asked if the company plans to continue making the oversight payments, even if the law doesn’t require it, O’Brien said, “I’m not going to speculate what future funding looks like.”
That decision may fall to Holtec International, a New Jersey company that’s seeking to buy Pilgrim and take over the decommissioning of the plant.
Joe Delmar, a spokesman for Holtec, said the company “has not actively lobbied state officials regarding the budget.”
“If Holtec does become the owner, we will continue to work with the appropriate state agencies so we can continue to meet the requirements of the plant’s emergency plan,” he said.
Joy Russell, a spokeswoman for Holtec, recently wrote to local officials in Plymouth, saying the company would not respond to questions about payments or other local requests until the deal is approved.
“Holtec is not the current NRC license holder, nor does it own Pilgrim at this time, and therefore Holtec is not in a position to make any commitments to the town of Plymouth,” she wrote in an e-mail last month that was shared with the Globe.
State environmental officials said ensuring sufficient funding for emergency response and environmental compliance at the plant is an “important priority.” They also noted that they, in conjunction with the state attorney general’s office, have filed a petition with the NRC to allow the state to review the proposed sale.
“The administration will continue to support the safe closure of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station,” said Katie Gronendyke, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Officials at the attorney general’s office also declined to comment about the payments, citing the pending litigation.
“Our office is focused on ensuring that … there is enough funding to properly clean up the site, store and manage spent fuel, and comply with all necessary environmental and safety measures,” said Chloe Gotsis, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey.
Suzanne Condon, a former associate commissioner and director of environmental health at the state Department of Public Health, said she worries that the loss of funding could jeopardize the agency’s radiation control program.
“In addition to the routine drills and monitoring … the funds pay for emergency response personnel, and importantly, the analytic lab capacity the state relies on for radiation-related incidents,” she said.
Local officials and advocates were livid the amendment didn’t pass.
“The Legislature has sided with corporate greed and failed to protect the public safety,” said Sean Mullin, a Plymouth resident who chairs the state’s Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel. “This Legislature’s failure to act is a disgrace, pure and simple.”
Others said they’re hoping new legislation will compel Energy or Holtec — or the federal government — to cover the costs.
“In a fair world, the cause of the risk, Pilgrim, should pay for emergency planning — not the Commonwealth or local towns,” said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch, a civic watchdog group. “The public should not be skinned.”