NRC Grants Pilgrim Extensions In Light Of Closing

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday gave the owners of the soon-to-close Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts a pass on post-Fukushima Daiichi safety requirements, triggering quick backlashes from the state's two U.S. Senators, Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

Pilgrim NPPTechnically, the NRC gave Entergy an extension on complying with new regulations until December 2019, which makes complying moot, given the company said it would close the General Electric Type 3 Boiling Water Reactor in June 2019, due to a negative economic environment. The plant's license would have allowed the plant to operate until June 2032.

The NRC is specifically allowing Pilgrim to rely on its current vent system regulates pressure in the reactor under adverse conditions. The new requirement calls for a dedicated power source to operate the ventilation system. Under post-Fukushima Daiichi regulations, nuclear plants are expected to have upgraded ventilation systems by June 2018. Entergy, however, had asked for an extension on that requirement.

If that plant were to continue operating, Entergy also would have needed to re-evaluate the plant with regards to earthquake and flooding hazards – which would be similar to conditions that created the March 2011 power plant disaster in Japan.

Pilgrim, by coincidence, is the same design as the reactors at the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi generating station, which also deployed GE Mark I reactors. That coincidence is not lost on those decrying the NRC's decision to grant Pilgrim a pass on certain regulations.

Both Markey and Warren issued statements critical of the NRC. Warren said the agency had "broken its promise" to keep the reactor safe until it closed in 2019. 

NRC spokeman Neil Sheehan noted that Pilgrim, currently off line for its last re-fueling outage, already complied with the post-Fukushima requirement of installing a vent on the reactor torus. Meanwhile, “in light of the plant's remaining operational life span … the time to complete remaining flooding and seismic evaluations is insufficient to complete the assessments, the design and approval of changes to the plant,” he said.

He added, “the impact to the site from the reevaluated flooding hazards is limited and the site is able to cope with it.”

Pilgrim spokesman Patrick O'Brien said the pass on the requirement took other safety measures into consideration. “Our request was based on similar requests across the industry and our ability to show that the current wetwell vents installed . . . in 1988, along with additional enhancements to the plant made in 2015, as part of the lessons learned from Fukushima, allowed for this outcome,” O’Brien said.

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  • The article says in part: Pilgrim, by coincidence, is the same design as the reactors at the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi generating station, which also deployed GE Mark I reactors.

    Mark I is not a reactor. It is a reactor containment building.

    As stated correctly in the second paragraph, Pilgrim has a General Electric Type 3 Boiling Water Reactor .