By Thomas Farragher
There’s no way to sugar coat the electric news flowing out of Entergy Corp.’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station these days.
A quick recap: There have been a series of unplanned shutdowns of the Plymouth plant’s reactor in recent years. Inspections have revealed safety problems that are not insignificant.
Just this week, we learned that Pilgrim failed to comply with a government advisory about fire safety systems at the plant. That advisory was issued 23 years ago!
“I know Entergy is a southern company and in the South they do things at a more leisurely place, but this is stretching it,’’ said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch, which she directs from her home in Duxbury where, through the trees and across the bay, she literally can keep an eye on Pilgrim.
Lampert and other critics of Pilgrim want the plant shut down. And pronto.
“You can’t run an antique nuclear reactor on the cheap and that’s what they’re doing,’’ she said.
Jeff Berger, a former chairman of the local committee in Plymouth that advises that board of selectman on Pilgrim matters, said the roughly $10 million the plant funnels into Plymouth coffers each year have kept residents “fat, dumb and happy’’ for too long. A recent UMass-Amherst study placed the plant’s direct and indirect economic impact at $255 million.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,’’ said Berger, speaking for himself and not the committee he used to lead. “What else is wrong with that plant that we don’t know?’’
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is so concerned about safety issues at the 43-year-old plant that last month it downgraded its safety rating. There is now no other plant in the country with a lower rating. Essentially Pilgrim is the atomic energy equivalent of a junk bond. It now rates as one of the three least safe units among the country’s 99 reactors.
Still, officials at the plant, which employs nearly 600, say safety remains paramount and insist it will never be compromised.
“Our families live in the community as well and we’re not willing to risk their safety,’’ said David Noyes, a Plymouth resident and Pilgrim’s director of regulatory and performance improvement. “I believe a vast majority of the people feel safe with the plant in their community and feel the town is better for having the plant there.’’
Kevin O’Reilly, executive director of the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “I grew up with a nuclear plant in my community,’’ O’Reilly said. “You have to put some faith in the NRC.’’
I believe people like O’Reilly, who has raised his family in Plymouth and says he would never do anything to endanger them.
But I can’t help but feeling that the millions that have flowed into the coffers of local government from Pilgrim have had some muffling effect on the alarm bells of safety.