Holtec to dump radioactive water from nuclear power plant in Cape Cod Bay

PLYMOUTH – The company that decommissioned the Pilgrim nuclear power plant has told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it plans to begin removing radioactive water from the plant in Cape Cod Bay in the first three months of 2022.

U.S. Representative William Keating, D-Mass., Shared an email with The Times that his staff received from the NRC on Wednesday which confirmed that Holtec International had informed the agency of its plans to release radioactive water into the Bay.

Just a week earlier, Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien told a citizens’ advisory group on nuclear decommissioning in Plymouth that there were other options, including evaporation of the million gallons water from the spent fuel pool and reactor vessel and other plant components or trucked to a facility in Idaho.

“We had brought this up (dumping water into the bay) with the state, but we didn’t make any decisions about it,” O’Brien said.

Previously:The Pilgrim nuclear power plant could release 1 million gallons of radioactive water into the bay. What we know

In an interview on Tuesday, Harold Anagnostopoulos, Nuclear Regulatory Commission plant inspector and senior health physicist for Region 1 (which includes New England), said he was not aware of any releases expected, but “we would not be involved in that decision. We would be involved in the investigation or inspection to make sure they meet their license requirements.”

Keating said failure to disclose their plans in a public forum violated promises of transparency.

“It’s troubling that within days it has become a sure thing,” Keating said on Friday.

“If Holtec really cared about public health and the environment and worked transparently as promised, Holtec would stop any spillage until a workable solution was found acceptable,” said Diane Turco, director of Cape Downwinders, a citizen watch group. “(D) throwing in Cape Cod Bay only underscores the fact that NRC and Holtec have no solution as to what to do with nuclear waste. Contaminating our environment is part of the nuclear nightmare process and it is is immoral. “

More concerning for Keating than the lack of transparency, what he said was a decision driven by cost, not necessity.

Two years ago, during negotiations for longtime plant owner Entergy Nuclear Operations to sell Pilgrim to Holtec for decommissioning, Keating said he and others had expressed concern over the transfer of the plant. process – including the $ 1.03 billion decommissioning trust fund – to a private company. who had not yet dismantled a nuclear power plant. At the time, state attorney general Maura Healey tried to intervene on this basis, fearing that the billion dollar fund would prove insufficient and that Pilgrim would be Holtec’s first blow to decommissioning.

In interviews, the NRC and Holtec said that the discharge of radioactive water into the ocean is standard practice in the nuclear industry and the cheapest method. O’Brien said Pilgrim dumped radioactive water in Cape Cod Bay as recently as 2017.

Keating said there is also a profit motive in the dumping plan.

“They are responsible to their shareholders, and that’s what will motivate them,” he said.

O’Brien said in an email response Friday night that the company has yet to make a decision on which disposal option to use.

“We are reviewing all options permitted under the state and federal National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) license. We are evaluating options that include trucking for disposal, evaporation, overflow (discharge) of treated water, or a combination of these. As noted, we would look to develop a final plan over the next 6 to 12 months, working with federal and state regulatory authorities to ensure compliance and provide sufficient notice to the public on the final disposition, ”wrote O’Brien in the email He said Holtec may have informed the NRC they were ready to offload, but had not finalized the plans.

The email shared by Keating from NRC Congressional Affairs Officer Carolyn Wolf said that “Holtec has informed NRC that it plans to release liquid effluent in the first quarter of 2022.”

O’Brien said cost is a consideration, but that “all levels of risk are also assessed and considered.”

In an interview this week, Anagnostopoulos said the plant’s water cannot be discharged unless it meets standards for materials and levels of radioactivity. The water is treated in batches (Holtec has said the batches will be 20,000 gallons) and is recycled through filters to remove metals and other possible contaminants as well as any highly radioactive, longer-lived items.

Radioactive tritium is typically what is released from nuclear power plants, and the Department of Energy’s website has estimated its half-life at 12.3 years.

Anagnostopoulos said the radiation level allowed to be discharged is 100 millirems. To put that into perspective, the soil contains around 21 millirems and a mammogram exposes the patient to 42 millirems, according to data from the US Department of Energy. A heart CT scan contains more than 2,000 millirems.

Anagnostopoulos said the 100 millirem level is right at the mouth of the outlet before dilution kicks in. He said sensors at the mouth of the drainpipe and at a distance are measuring radiation, and that plant employees take biological samples and water samples and submit them to an independent laboratory to test for bioaccumulation. He said there are also risks in transporting radioactive water, such as the potential for an accident or a spill along the road, and that transfers a problem elsewhere.

But Keating said claims of low levels of radiation in nuclear power plant effluents were only part of the decision-making process. He said the potential biological and economic damage to maritime industries such as fishing, aquaculture and recreation, including public perception that they could be contaminated with radioactivity, should have been taken into account. If that was the case, he said, the clear choice was to truck the water to another site, not dump it in the ocean.

“The problem is much clearer. We have an alternative (trucking) and the only difference is the cost,” said Keating, who argued that the billion dollars in the trust fund came from taxpayers and deserved. the best disposal solution that preserved their environment and their maritime industries.

Contact Doug Fraser at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @dougfrasercct.

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