Fight to keep radioactive wastewater out of Cape Cod Bay

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — A ride on the waters of the Cape Cod Bay would normally be a safe haven for Plymouth Harbor Committee member Paul Quintal, but he fears these waters won’t be safe for long.

“I’m just angry. They have a tremendous amount of oysters, we have mussels growing just on the tip of Plymouth beach, and here is the plant,” said Quintal, pointing to a map showing proximity. “The impression of the public would be that there’s no way we would buy contaminated food. I wouldn’t serve it to my family.”

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

The town has been fighting back – and, finally, some progress. This week, Holtec told Sen. Ed Markey, “We assure you that any intermittent discharge will always be well below the Nuclear Regulatory Commission limits, which we have invariably met in the past. That said, we will voluntarily refrain from releasing process water to the bay.”

“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.”

The fear is that this would not just affect swimming and food, but also tourism.

“There are lots of beaches in Massachusetts, and if Plymouth is contaminated, where are you going to go?” said Quintal.

Holtec also says it will refrain “until the processed water discharge is confirmed by your expert’s determination to contain radiological levels low enough to ensure that the local marine life remains protected. We 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.”

“The people have spoken, and Holtec International has finally listened,” said Sen. Markey. “We aren’t going to let companies destroy our ecosystems or our economies for their own profit, but we will welcome good faith partnership with business leaders if they uphold their commitment to listen to and learn from the communities they operate in. It was a powerful victory in Friday’s hearing when Holtec International’s President Dr. Kris Singh committed to engaging with my office, the state of Massachusetts, union leaders, and local stakeholders in any decision-making around nuclear decommissioning. We’ve now secured another important win with Dr. Singh’s promise to explore other options for the disposal of the contaminated water – including storage on site, or trucking it away for safer disposal – and to refrain from the release of any contaminated water unless there is consensus from stakeholders following independent, third-party tests of the water.”

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