To the Editor:
The Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Plymouth will be up for license renewal next year, 40 years after its 1972 start-up. It's the same GE Mark I design as two of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nukes we have been reading about for nearly a month. Japan is far more vulnerable to earthquakes than we are, but Chernobyl and Three Mile Island remind us disasters are not dependent on shifting tectonic plates.
It is disconcerting that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) considers the Pilgrim plant the second most dangerous of America's 104 ancient reactors. Pilgrim has been cited for violations numerous times by the NRC, but usually just gets a slap on the wrist. Once they fined Pilgrim $60,000 when a supervisor was found asleep on the job.
The Plymouth facility, like its Japanese twins, uses sea water to control the temperature of fuel rods and stored waste. When that brine is returned to the sea it carries unnatural heat and if there is a leakage problem the water also carries radioactive isotopes into the ocean. Japan's "hot" radioactive water is now turning the nearby sea radioactive. So locally caught fish will join milk and vegetables as banned foods. Goodby sushi!
Researching isotopes can be mind boggling. Their half-life is how long it takes half its atoms to decay. Some only take seconds. But the principal one in nuclear waste is iodine-129 with a half-life of 15.7 million years. If a generation of your family comes along every 20 years, just imagine how many generations of your progeny would be at risk!
The NRC has relicensed over 50 old nuclear plants, and turned none down. So is Pilgrim's application just a pro forma exercise? Can we let it happen?
They are required by law to make periodic checks, but these can be as ineffectual as a NRC phone call to a plant manager. That executive has the job of keeping the plant profitable and out of the headlines. The regulators, the managers, the financial interests, and campaign-funded politicians make up a cozy club. Each member has a reason to dissemble.
Outright lies have been exposed. For example, Entergy, who owns Pilgrim, denied pipes carrying dangerous tritium through the aquifer at their Vermont Yankee plant near the MA/VT border. They got caught, but they were relicensed anyway, ironically, just one day before the Fukushima disaster occurred. That should go on hold.
Fortunately, some of our news outlets are responding to the public's concerns, indeed are in the vanguard. We are lucky to have a wary, but not inflammatory website providing information on www.pilgrimwatch.org in a most responsible way.
When wind and solar generate disaster-free electricity, why does relicensing an old nuclear hazard make sense?
Richard C. Bartlett