PLYMOUTH — Kris Singh, president of the company decommissioning the Pilgrim nuclear plant, has committed to allowing independent testing of the 1.1 million gallons of radioactive water from the plant’s systems that may be released into Cape Cod Bay.
But Singh chose his words carefully when making that promise. During the Congressional hearing held here on May 6, he told U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, “We’ll share any information we have and give them access to the data at the plant.”
Singh repeated the commitment in a letter he sent to Markey a few days later, but again his choice of words left questions for observers concerned about the potential release of the water.
One is whether Holtec International, Singh’s company, is simply agreeing to allow an independent lab to look at the company’s test results rather than to allow the lab to do its own sampling.
Another is whether the independent lab will be allowed to test the water before it is treated rather than after it has undergone treatment to filter out enough radionuclides to meet federal standards for release into the bay. In recent correspondence with the Independent, a company official said outside testing would happen only after the filtering treatment.
State officials have said they believe it is important for Holtec to do initial sampling of the spent fuel pool and other stored wastewater onsite to get baseline data on pollutants and their concentrations.
Ken Buesseler, a marine radiochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has said that radioactive contaminants have “vastly different fates in the ocean, depending upon their chemical nature.”
Tests should show the details of the pollutants in the water. “This should be more than that levels will be below some allowed threshold,” Buesseler said, “but actual values for the water today, by isotope, detection limit, and volume.”
James Cantwell, the state director for Sen. Markey, told the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) at its May 23 meeting that “the intent is not just to have an independent party, but that they go in themselves and get the sample and Holtec will pay for it.”
NDCAP member Mary Lampert, who is director of the citizens group Pilgrim Watch, was clear about her preference following the meeting. The Dept. of Public Health (DPH) should be allowed to take its own water sample, she said, “before it is diluted, in order to get a true reading.”
NDCAP member Jack Priest, director of the DPH’s Radiation Control Program, said his agency could offer some guidance to the third party testing the water on what radionuclides to look for. “Hopefully, we won’t have to do the testing because Holtec will decide not to discharge,” Priest added.
In a statement to the Independent, David Noyes, Holtec’s senior compliance manager at Pilgrim, said the independent analysis of the water would be done after treatment, not before.
“The only benefit to sampling now is diagnostic as it allows us to begin to evaluate treatment options,” Noyes said. “The water would likely be treated (filtered and demineralized), depending on the method of disposal selected, significantly changing its chemical and radiological composition.”
As for public concern about the “integrity of HDI-performed sampling activities,” Noyes said, “We have performed split sampling with MDPH on tritium concentrations in the groundwater wells for several years and during early phases of site characterization and never had any anomalies.”
The “Save Our Bay” coalition, with members of the fishing and tourism industries and area activists, has demanded that Holtec take the option of releasing the radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay off the table.
The frontrunner among the alternatives is to ship the water to a registered disposal facility — the method being used by the company decommissioning the Vermont Yankee reactor. The DPH would oversee transportation of the radioactive water to an offsite disposal facility.
Diane Turco, director of Cape Downwinders, has suggested that the water be stored onsite in a large leakproof tank placed on the pad where spent fuel is currently stored in steel and concrete casks.