The Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Plymouth is scheduled to close no later than 2019, but state Sen. Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) wants to safeguard the public interest by financially penalizing Pilgrim's owner if the plant isn’t properly decommissioned on schedule.
“This plant does not have a track record which would give one confidence relative to operating and maintaining a 43-year-old nuclear power plant,” Wolf said early this week. “This plant was shut down 77 days last year [for various reasons].”
The joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy held hearings in the state legislature on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Wolf was one of many who spoke, along with Truro Selectman Maureen Burgess, who serves as chairman of the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission’s Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Emergency Planning Subcommittee, and Diane Turco, head of the Cape Downwinders, who opposed Pilgrim since it opened in the early 1970s; both want it closed immediately.
They urged state legislators to support two bills introduced by Wolf: one (S. 1797) that establishes a fee on spent nuclear fuel storage and another (S. 1798) that establishes funding for “post closure activities” at nuclear power stations.
The first would impose an annual fee of $10 million on each fuel rod assembly remaining in a spent fuel pool each year. This bill is aimed at providing Entergy, the plant's owner, with a strong financial incentive for removing spent fuel rods from the pool and placing them in dry cask storage units.
Burgess testified that the 2014 UMass study her advisory subcommittee commissioned found that a fire in a spent fuel pool could deprive Cape Cod of between $2 billion and $12 billion in lost tourism revenues, and cost the state $5 billion to $8 billion in lost tax revenues. It could also decimate property values on the Cape, now estimated at well over $70 billion.
“We have deliberately limited our input in this instance to the economic impact and financial consequences that would occur if such a catastrophic fire took place,” said Burgess.
In early November, the advisory commission sent a letter of support for both pieces of legislation to the House and Senate chairs of the joint committee. The letter stated that a 2006 estimate of $488 billion in costs to the state resulting from an out-of-control spent fuel fire at the Pilgrim plant was outdated and that the damage estimate needed to be increased.
“There is no question that the most secure and least vulnerable means of storing assemblies is dry cask storage. We should insist on no less than that,” said Wolf.
The second bill (S. 1798) would impose an annual decommissioning fee of $25 million on Entergy to ensure that the state’s taxpayers will not be stuck with a huge bill for decommissioning the plant once it is shut down. In effect, the bill creates a decommissioning trust fund.
“If decommissioning takes 20 years, that amounts to $500 million. This is a prudent amount given that the decommissioning fund for Pilgrim is now about $500 million short,” said Wolf.
Turco is concerned that Pilgrim’s owner could walk away from it and leave state taxpayers holding the bill for decommissioning. She said that is exactly what happened to Connecticut taxpayers, who were recently stuck with a $488 million bill for the decommissioning of a Millstone nuclear plant.
Turco questions Entergy’s overall financial condition because the company now faces $100 million in updates and repairs, which are required to meet Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines.
“Why would we expect this corporation to be able to fully fund this decommissioning?” Turco asked.
Wolf disagreed. He said Entergy is not in financial distress.
“At the same time, they are not going to willingly put money into the plant unless they are required to do it,” he said.
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