BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton today announced that the state has filed a petition to intervene in the pending federal proceeding to review the proposed sale and license transfer of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, citing serious concerns with the health, safety, and financial risks raised by the proposed deal.
In the petition, filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) along with affidavits from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the state Department of Public Health and an expert consultant, the AG’s Office has requested a hearing before the NRC to address the Commonwealth’s concerns, including the lack of adequate financial assurances provided in the proposed sale of the plant from current licensee Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc. to Holtec International to fully and safely decommission and restore the site and manage spent nuclear fuel. Specifically, the petition argues that Entergy and Holtec have failed to demonstrate that the plant’s Decommissioning Trust Fund is adequate to cover all of the potential costs associated with decommissioning and long-term management of spent fuel onsite.
“This proposed deal puts the health and safety of our residents at risk,” AG Healey said. “We’re intervening to protect the public and ensure that the transaction does not leave our state’s taxpayers on the hook for any of the costs of safely decommissioning the plant, restoring the site, and managing spent nuclear fuel.”
“The decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station must be completed in a manner that protects the safety of the public and environment, without undue financial burdens,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “Intervening in the federal process gives voice to the concerns raised by the Commonwealth’s residents and will help ensure that these concerns are considered during the license transfer proceeding.”
If approved by the NRC, the license transfer will relieve Entergy of the regulatory and financial obligations associated with the power plant and shift them to Holtec, which proposes to decommission the plant on an expedited basis. According to the proposal, Holtec will remain responsible indefinitely for the management of 61 dry casks holding more than 4,000 radioactive bundles of spent nuclear fuel rods at Pilgrim. However, the state argues that Holtec’s cost estimate included in the proposal does not adequately account for likely contingencies that could drive the costs of decommissioning and spent fuel management beyond what can currently be covered by the existing Decommissioning Trust Fund.
According to the petition, the possibility of a funding deficit for decommissioning and spent fuel management poses significant health, safety, environmental and financial risks to the state and its residents. Federal regulations require that licensees maintain a sufficient amount of funding in the event that any unexpected conditions or expenses arise during the termination of a license and decommissioning of a plant.
“The risk of a funding shortfall is radiological, environmental, and financial. If, for example, the Decommissioning Fund is insufficient to cover all of Holtec’s costs, there is no guarantee that Massachusetts citizens will not become the payers of last resort,” the petition states.
The Commonwealth argues that federal regulations require a hearing to address these issues, and that the license transfer is a major federal action that requires an assessment of the potential environmental consequences of the proposal.
AG Healey has been a vocal advocate for increased safety at nuclear power plants. In December 2015, she filed a brief with other New England states in support of Vermont’s call on the NRC to ensure decommissioning funds meant to clean up radioactive waste at closed power plants are not used for other purposes.
In June 2015, AG Healey sent a letter to congressional leaders advocating for three key pieces of legislation that are vital to increasing security at decommissioned reactors where spent fuel is stored, enhancing safety of long term storage of spent fuel at plant sites, including Pilgrim, and increasing opportunities for public participation in the decommissioning process for retiring plants.
AG Healey and Governor Charlie Baker led a bipartisan coalition of state and federal officials in January 2017 that successfully called on the NRC to hold a public hearing to address ongoing safety issues at Pilgrim until the plant’s scheduled closure.
In addition to working with the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen’s Advisory Panel, the Baker-Polito Administration established an interagency working group on the decommissioning process at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to provide coordination and action on matters including radiological and environmental cleanup standards, and emergency planning.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Seth Schofield, of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, and Joseph Dorfler, of AG Healey’s Energy and Telecommunications Division, with assistance from staff at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.