(TNS) — Despite opposition from the region’s legislators and even the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has voted to allow the owners of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to shrink the plant’s emergency planning zone from the current 10-mile radius down to its own property line.
Pilgrim’s reactor ceased operation May 31. The NRC will allow elimination of the zone, which encompasses sections of Plymouth, Kingston, Carver, Marshfield and Duxbury, come April.
And with that elimination will come the loss of about $2 million in annual funding for those towns, to be put toward safety training, staffing, equipment and expenses.
“The exemption saves Holtec money at the cost of public safety,” Mary Lampert, president of Pilgrim Watch, said. “NRC rationalizes its decision to grant the exemption on a false assumption. They incorrectly claim that the risk of a rapidly occurring offsite radiological release is significantly lower at a nuclear power reactor that has permanently ceased operations and removed fuel from the reactor vessel. Wrong. There is far more radiation in the spent fuel pool than in the reactor core when Pilgrim is operating.”
A single NRC member voted against the exemption, citing a number of issues of concern, including increased possibility of an earthquake in the region.
The earthquake risks at the Pilgrim site are greater than previously understood, Commissioner Jeff Baran wrote in a statement explaining his vote.
In May 2014, as part of the post-Fukushima seismic hazard reevaluation, the NRC published updated ground motion response spectra for Pilgrim, Baran said.
“The results revealed the potential for an earthquake at Pilgrim significantly stronger than the safe shutdown earthquake the plant was designed to handle,” Baran wrote. “In fact, the gap between the previously understood seismic risk and the updated seismic risk was larger at Pilgrim than at any other nuclear power plant in the country.”
Baran said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with several states including Massachusetts, have disputed the NRC staff’s premise that so-called “all hazards planning” would be sufficient to address a spent nuclear fuel accident.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, blasted the NRC’s decision to exempt Pilgrim from emergency planning requirements.
“Pilgrim should not get an exemption for key emergency preparedness and planning regulations while dangerous nuclear spent fuel is still cooling in open pools and threatening local residents,” Markey said in a statement. “The NRC’s decision is shocking but not surprising to all of us who have watched how the public’s concerns have been consistently ignored during the decommissioning process of the Pilgrim plant.”
Markey said he planned to reintroduce legislation to keep “key protections” in place.