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Staff ‘Overwhelmed’ at Nuclear Plant, but U.S. Won’t Shut It via The New York Times

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — One by one, ordinary residents confronted the federal regulators, telling them during a three-hour meeting Tuesday night that the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station here was not safe and should be shut down.

Their chief piece of evidence? An internal email written Dec. 6 by the leader of a federal inspection team and sent accidentally — thanks to autofill in the “to” line — to Diane Turco, a citizen activist opposed to the plant.

The email outlined a host of problems at the aging plant, 40 miles southeast of Boston, including that the plant managers seemed “overwhelmed just trying to run the station.”

Ms. Turco immediately forwarded the email to The Cape Cod Times, which ran an article that set off alarm bells across the state and reignited residents’ long-simmering worries about the plant, which has been classified by federal regulators as one of the three worst-performing of the nation’s 99 nuclear plants.

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But to the surprise of some at the meeting, the regulators acknowledged the problems. Donald Jackson, the inspector who wrote the email, discussed its main points. And the regulators said the problems raised in the message were being addressed and, most important, were not serious enough to close the plant.

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has classified Pilgrim, which went online in 1972, and two plants in Arkansas in a category called Column Four, one step away from being required to shut. All three are owned by Entergy Corporation, based in Louisiana.

After the meeting Tuesday night, Patrick O’Brien, a spokesman for Entergy, said, “The key for us is that the N.R.C. said the plant is safe to operate.”

The company is shutting the plant anyway by May 31, 2019, for financial reasons, Mr. O’Brien said. “With low gas prices, it’s not favorable to run a nuclear generating station and make money,” he said. But if the plant were to shut down early, Entergy would be penalized for failing to keep its commitment to contribute to the region’s electrical grid.

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Dave Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has worked in the industry but is now advising the activists, said he thought the regulators’ conclusions were “reasonable,” but he faulted them for failing to fully explain their thinking.

“The N.R.C. didn’t do a good job of explaining why a troubled plant can still be operating safely,” he said.

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