Feb. 24--PLYMOUTH -- Specifics on deficiencies and violations at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, identified during an in-depth, on-site review by a special federal inspection team earlier this winter, will be laid out for both plant officials and the public on March 21 at Plymouth Memorial Hall.
The annual March meetings in Plymouth, organized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are usually reserved for discussion of Pilgrim's performance over the previous year.
While the 2016 assessment will be discussed, this year the NRC will also present its findings from the special inspection done over three weeks in December and January.
The so-called exit interview for the recent special inspection -- a procedure reserved for only the worst performing reactors in the country -- can be conducted privately with the plant's owner-operator, in this case Entergy Corp.
The NRC decided to exercise its option to hold this exit interview in public, since the community has been closely watching both the plant and the agency that oversees it.
"We have done public exit meetings for inspections in the past, typically for high-profile reviews," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said. "While there was some discussion with (Entergy) when we were in Plymouth in January, this will be the first time they will hear the nuts and bolts details."
An in-house email related to the special inspection and mistakenly sent to a plant opponent in early December had catapulted Pilgrim and its problems into the spotlight. Inspection leader Donald Jackson had characterized the plant as poorly maintained and poorly run, demonstrating his claim with a series of examples the team had found.
The intense reaction to the email from the state's elected officials, as well as the general public, ultimately prompted the NRC to agree to an unplanned January meeting in Plymouth.
During the contentious Jan. 31 session, NRC officials called the email's observations preliminary, but Jackson did say the final report by his team -- expected to be released in late April -- would identify 10 to 15 deficiencies that Pilgrim operators would be required to address.
Watchdogs expect to hear details on those deficiencies on March 21.
"I certainly think the public would welcome the opportunity to be present for a first-hand discussion," said Janet Azarovitz, of West Falmouth, a member of the Pilgrim Legislative Advisory Coalition. "For those of us who have been acutely aware of what continues to happen at Pilgrim, we will make sure that the voices of those who have asked to shut the plant will be ready to listen, will welcome the opportunity and will respond, as well."
Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch, doesn't expect any major action by federal regulators, despite findings from the inspection and multiple violations noted in reports during the last year.
"The NRC will give its opinion and advice and then congratulate the industry on the progress it's made, and then the industry will say 'Yes, we've made vast strides,'" Lampert said. "If the ax was going to come down, it would have been hinted at during the January 31 meeting."
Federal regulators have developed a set of performance standards for evaluating the nation's fleet of reactors. Pilgrim was placed in Column 4 -- one step above mandatory shutdown -- in September 2015 based on unplanned shutdowns and equipment failures.
"It's clear they are a Column 4 performer at this point, but we did determine they were operating safely," Jackson said during the January meeting.
Entergy spokesman Patrick O'Brien issued the following statement: "At a January NRC public meeting, the NRC noted the plant was both safe to operate and had improved. Still, our performance has not met our high standards. We continue to make strides every day to improve performance further and make conservative decisions regarding Pilgrim's maintenance and operations." He cited the plant operator's decision to shut the reactor down prior to a blizzard as an example of the conservative decision-making.
Diane Turco, president of the Cape Downwinders watchdog group, plans to rally the public statewide for the March 21 session. About 300 attended the meeting with federal officials in January.
Turco doesn't expect that federal overseers will shut down Pilgrim or penalize it for its infractions. "It's going to be more reports on more equipment failures and nothing will get done," Turco said. "The NRC only monitors Pilgrim. It doesn't regulate."
Sheehan said the exit meeting on March 21 isn't the end of the special inspection process. Inspectors must still produce their final report, which should be in hand before the end of April. Entergy and the NRC then settle on actions that must be taken along with deadlines for getting the work done. That information will be published in a Confirmatory Action Letter issued by the NRC in June.
O'Brien said the plant's 600 workers are dedicated.
"Our employees, and their families and friends, look forward to the opportunity to attend the March 21st NRC meeting and speak about their commitment to Pilgrim Station and safe and reliable operations for its final two years," he said.
State Rep. Sarah Peake, a Provincetown Democrat and longtime Pilgrim watchdog, plans to attend the March 21 meeting. Legislators will get together and decide whether one speaker will represent them or individual statements will be made. "In some ways it's more powerful if we can coalesce around a common statement," Peake said.
-- Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.
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