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State Sounds Alarm Over Sale of Pilgrim for Decommissioning

Officials raised major concerns about Entergy's proposed sale of the soon-to-be-closed Pilgrim nuclear power plant.

Boston Informer, @boston_informer

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts officials raised major concerns Wednesday about Entergy's proposed sale of the soon-to-be-closed Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth to another company for decommissioning. 

In a motion filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's administration asked that the state be allowed to intervene in the federal review of the pending deal, citing health, safety and financial risks associated with the planned transfer of Pilgrim's license to a New Jersey-based subsidiary of Holtec International.

Specifically, Healey and state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton argue that Entergy and Holtec have failed to demonstrate that sufficient financial resources exist to safely decommission the plant and provide for the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at the site.

The state's only remaining nuclear plant, which began operations in 1972 and has a spotty safety record, is slated for permanent shutdown by June 1. In documents filed last year with the NRC, Holtec said it would undertake an "accelerated decommissioning" of the facility, shortening the timeframe for cleanup and restoration of the site from the original estimate of 60 years to just eight years.

"While (Massachusetts) welcomes the possibility of a properly conducted and expedited cleanup and restoration of Pilgrim, the risk of a funding shortfall and the attendant significant health, safety, environmental, financial and economic risks to (Massachusetts) and its citizens raise serious questions about the realization of that benefit," state officials wrote.

The petition stops short of asking the NRC to block the sale, but suggests the agency should not allow it to go forward as currently proposed. The state is also seeking a public hearing to air its concerns.

In a statement, Entergy said it was reviewing the state's filing.

"We believe the transfer of Pilgrim to Holtec for prompt and safe decommissioning is the best option for Plymouth and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," the company said.

An after-hours message left with a spokeswoman for Holtec was not immediately returned.

The proposed sale, announced last summer, also includes the Entergy-owned Palisades nuclear plant in Covert, Michigan, which is expected to close in 2022.

The decommissioning process involves radiological decontamination, removal of spent fuel and dismantling of the reactor and physical plant. While Holtec believes those steps could be completed within eight years, the spent fuel may remain in casks stored near the Pilgrim site for decades since the federal government has yet to approve a national long-term nuclear waste storage facility.

Nuclear plants are required by the NRC to maintain special trust funds to pay for decommissioning. Holtec has said the slightly more than $1 billion available in Pilgrim's trust fund would be sufficient to cover costs, but with only $3.6 million to spare — a cushion that critics say is too small to cover unanticipated expenses and that could leave Massachusetts taxpayers on the hook for overruns.

A citiien's advocacy group, Pilgrim Watch, also filed a motion to intervene on Wednesday, citing similar concerns as those expressed by state officials.

"The actual cost of decontaminating and restoring the Pilgrim site will be more, probably far more, than Holtec has estimated," the group wrote.

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