Feds warn Pilgrim plant about the discharge of potentially radioactive water into bay off Plymouth

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — A newly-released letter by the EPA warns the company responsible for the decommissioning of the old Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth against releasing any potentially radioactive wastewater into Cape Cod Bay.

That letter, sent June 17th by the EPA to Holtec Decommissioning International, was released by Senator Ed Markey.

As Boston 25 reported in May, the decommissioned Pilgrim nuclear power plant is trying to dispose of more than 1 million gallons of wastewater. The company responsible, Holtec, has publicly said it was considering three disposal options: trucking it out, evaporation, and dumping it in Cape Cod Bay, arguing that the levels in the wastewater are low enough that it would be “innocuous to marine life.”

In the letter, Ken Moraff who is the EPA’s director of its Water Division tells Holtec that its “alternative interpretation” of a discharge permit, presented in May, does not align with the EPA standards.

“In your letter, you state for the first time that you now believe that the discharge of ‘treated’ wastewater from the spent fuel pool ‘complies with’ the current NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit and assert that this interpretation is ‘well within the plain language of the NPDES permit and would be consistent with the MOU and past discharge practices.’ EPA does not agree with your position,” said Moraff.

“First, your novel interpretation—through which you attempt to narrow the permit’s prohibition of wastewater discharges to ‘untreated’ effluent—directly conflicts with the ‘plain language’ of the permit,” said Moraff.

“Accordingly, for these reasons your reading of the permit is, in fact, plainly inconsistent with the unambiguous provisions of the permit,” said Moraff.

“In summary, Holtec Pilgrim is not authorized under the current NPDES Permit to discharge pollutants in spent fuel pool water,” said Moraff, adding that If Holtec wants to seek authorization from EPA for such discharges it must provide the information needed for the EPA to analyze the request and determine if such a discharge would be in accordance with the regulations.

Details of the letter and its potential ramifications were first reported by the Boston Globe.

In a statement to Boston 25, Sen. Markey applauded the EPA’s stance.

“The EPA plays a critical role in protecting public health, and I’m glad that it has been a stalwart defender in ensuring the role of strong science and clean water regulations in the discussion around nuclear decommissioning and wastewater management,” said Sen. Markey. “I will continue to support this and other avenues for transparency and engagement with stakeholders throughout the decommissioning process in order to safeguard the public trust.”

Boston 25 has reached out to Holtec for comment about the EPA’s June letter. In May, the company said in a statement that it will “delay the completion of decommissioning program, if need be, and hold the process water inside the plant for as long as necessary if the expert scientific opinion advises against discharging the remaining plant water into the bay.”

As Boston 25 reported in May, town leaders in Plymouth and residents are concerned the water would not just affect swimming and food, but also tourism.

“We won’t stop. We’re not going to just take their word for it,” said Betty Cavacco, of the Plymouth Select Board. “We didn’t sign up to be a nuclear waste dump when we signed up for a nuclear power plant. The waste was supposed to be trucked out.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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