• Here's how you shut down a 47-year-old nuclear power station

    By: Bob Dumas

    Updated:

    PLYMOUTH, Mass. - A big switch is about to be flipped off on the South Shore.

    On May 31, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will be shut down and the process of decommissioning the 47-year-old plant will begin.

    In an exact replica of the nuclear power plant’s control room, engineers are practicing how to shut the plant down, reviewing procedures and preparing for contingencies.

    “It’s a fairly complex process because first you have to shut down the plant and you have to put it in a stable condition,” explained Joseph Lynch, the senior manager of government relations for Entergy, the company that runs Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

    Since 1972, the plant has looked out over Cape Cod Bay, producing 680 megawatts of power for hundreds of thousands of homes.

    One of the big challenges is securing radioactive fuel that is stored on the site.

    Plant spokesperson Patrick O’Brien said there will ultimately be 61 casks of spent fuel kept on the grounds of the plant.

    The plant is currently owned by Entergy which had planned to follow a protocol that allows for 60 years to complete the decommissioning process. The ultimate goal is to return the site to its former condition.

    Now, the facility might be sold to a company called Holtec which says it can expedite the timetable and do the clean-up in eight years.

    Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey is concerned about what might happen if the project is rushed.

    “We have to have guarantees that if Pilgrim is sold to yet another company, that the standards remain the same, that safety is made pre-eminent,” he said. 

    Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a hearing on the proposed sale.

    Governor Charlie Baker told Boston 25 News: “We work pretty closely with the Attorney General’s office, and with the federal authorities who have the ultimate responsibility to assure that the safety issues that we’ve raised are addressed, and we have a variety of legal avenues that we can pursue.”

    It won’t be long after the May 31 deadline that things will start to change around the plant, according to O’Brien.

    "As you go thru the decommissioning process, you are going to notice buildings disappear," he said. "You are going to notice a reduction in workforce. Come June, our workforce will shrink in half.”

    Another reduction will come early next year, leaving just 150 of the current 600 workers on the job.

    Lynch, who has overseen the decommissioning of five other plants, is confident this entire process can be done safely.

    "I can assure you based on the regulations, and the mindset and the training of the people who are going to be involved, whether operating or decommissioning the plant, safety will always be our number one priority,” he said. 

    The Northeast Power Coordinating Council recently released a forecast for the region’s power needs.

    It said the retirement of the Plymouth facility should not impact the region’s power supply because it can be offset by other energy sources.

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