May 26--PLYMOUTH -- A member of Gov. Charlie Baker's Cabinet used her gavel liberally at Wednesday's kickoff meeting of a panel established to provide advice and information as Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is decommissioned.
Motions did not make it to votes, and the scheduling of future sessions of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel was tabled by Department of Public Utilities Commissioner Angela O'Connor, who will serve as chairwoman based on state law until the 21-member committee makes its own choice.
Members did try to elect a leader Wednesday. A motion was made and seconded, but O'Connor did not allow a vote, saying she was exercising her right as chairwoman.
Plymouth member Sean Mullin, who made the motion, said later he was "surprised and confused" by O'Connor's actions. Under the law establishing the committee, members were to settle the issue of chairmanship at their first meeting, he said.
O'Connor also thwarted attempts by members to schedule the panel's next meeting, tabling the issue because, she said, certain posting requirements must be met. The commissioner just kept repeating that the group "was committed to four meetings a year by the legislation."
Members clearly wanted more meetings to set goals and appoint subcommittees.
Panel member Pine duBois, executive director of the Jones River Watershed Association, asked O'Connor to promise to set a meeting "as soon as bureaucratically possible."
One audience member later joked it appeared O'Connor was following "Charlie's Rules of Order" for conducting meetings rather than "Robert's Rules of Order," the standard manual for parliamentary procedure.
Those appointed to the 21-member advisory panel were upbeat after the session, in spite of the unusual way in which it was run.
"It was a bumpy start, but it will work itself out," Mullin said. "There was much more common ground among committee members than I had anticipated. It's a diverse group who all seem to have the same goals in mind. There was broad consensus on what needs to be done."
Information provided by Joseph Lynch, manager of government and external affairs for Entergy Corp., Pilgrim's owner and operator, included:
--Pilgrim's decommissioning trust fund contains $1 billion; actual cost of decommissioning is still unknown.
--Entergy has not decided whether it will drain systems and leave buildings on-site for up to 60 years under an option known as SafStor, or conduct a much quicker dismantling and site cleanup under a process called Decom.
--In answer to public concerns, Lynch confirmed Pilgrim's closure date of June 1, 2019, saying it is a "no-later-than date -- a date we will not exceed."
--Entergy will not move the concrete pad for its dry casks farther away from Cape Cod Bay despite public concerns.
There were a few skirmishes with Entergy during the evening. Three panel members are Entergy employees.
Former Sen. Daniel Wolf, who represented the Cape & Islands District and sits on the advisory panel, asked Lynch about the criteria for choosing between Safstor and Decom. Lynch said it would hinge on when the trust fund contained enough to complete decommissioning.
"So there is no risk analysis? It's strictly a cost analysis?" Wolf asked. Safety must trump economic concerns, he said.
DuBois criticized Entergy's decision to keep the radioactive spent fuel casks 150 feet from Cape Cod Bay. "It's clear to us that Entergy doesn't recognize sea level is rising," duBois said.
John Flores, a Barnstable town councilor and panel appointee, told Lynch he had seen "a lot of rolling of eyes" to the spokesman's comment that Pilgrim had a 40-year history of safe operation.
Such remarks prompted Michael Twomey, Entergy's vice president of external affairs, to say fellow committee members were picking on the company.
"I think we're going to be together a long time," Twomey said. "Attacks won't lead to constructive discussion."
Mary Lampert, speaking from the audience on behalf of the Duxbury Nuclear Advisory Committee, asked the decommissioning panel to urge shifting the dry casks to high ground away from the bay, to push for restricted use of the decommissioning trust fund, to press to get the site cleaned up to a higher standard than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires, and to urge for continued radiological monitoring.
Lampert added the group should seek funding from the state so it could hire experts.
Kenneth Tavares, chairman of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen, said the public's well-being was in the panel's hands. "Ask the tough questions and seek truthful answers," Tavares said. "We're depending on you."
-- Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.
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