PLYMOUTH — A Holtec official said at a July public hearing that, if a state law prohibited it, his company would not release a million gallons of treated radioactive water from Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s spent fuel pool and other systems into Cape Cod Bay.
At the time, passage of such a law seemed unlikely. But now it’s sitting on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, awaiting his signature. He must act by this Sunday.
David Noyes, Holtec’s senior compliance manager, made the statement during a contentious meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (NDCAP) in Plymouth. Cape Downwinders President Diane Turco asked Noyes if Holtec Decommissioning International, the company that owns and is decommissioning the Plymouth nuclear plant, would comply with an amendment limiting discharges that was attached to the pending economic development bill if the proposal became law.
Noyes responded, “I told you, if the state law is on the books that prevents us from discharging, we will not discharge.”
The amendment, proposed by state Sen. Susan Moran of the Plymouth and Barnstable District, aimed at halting any release of processed water or other liquids from the spent fuel pool and other reactor systems if they contained elevated levels of radioactive contaminants, including tritium or boron, until a two-year study of the environmental and economic effects is completed.
Holtec announced late last year that it planned to release more than a million gallons of treated effluent from plant systems into the bay. Since then, environmentalists and members of the fishing and tourism industries have been working to stop the plan.
At the time Noyes made his statement, the House and Senate were within days of ending their formal legislative sessions, making the odds of passage remote. Ultimately the economic development bill, along with the amendment, was tabled.
While the House and Senate continue to meet in informal session until the end of 2022, any bill approved during that time requires a unanimous vote.
Last week, the unexpected happened. A somewhat streamlined economic development bill was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate, with Moran’s amendment attached. The governor must decide by Sunday whether he will sign or veto it.
Under the amendment’s provisions, a 13-member commission would look at the effects of a discharge of spent fuel pool wastewater on the fishing, aquaculture, tourism, and restaurant industries and any other sectors the commission deems relevant. As part of its work, the panel would hold public forums in Dukes, Plymouth, Bristol, and Barnstable counties.
The commission would have until Nov. 1, 2024 to produce a report on its findings and recommendations. No discharge from the plant could begin until at least 90 days after the commission’s report.
Opponents expect Holtec to keep its word if Gov. Baker signs the bill. They have the videotaped statements from Noyes as evidence.
“A strong voice for the people, Sen. Moran deserves tremendous kudos for her persistence to protect our communities from Holtec’s plan to dump their radioactive garbage into our bay,” said Turco in an email. “She never gave up on us.”
“So much of our economy and local identity is tied to the ocean; we need a comprehensive understanding of the impacts any dumping of water will have, and this study will ensure greater transparency before any steps are taken by Holtec,” said Moran on Tuesday. “This victory is a culmination of countless hours of advocacy by numerous activists, and the bipartisan support from the state and federal delegation to get this over the finish line.”
Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien said in an email, “As we have always done, we will comply with our permits related to the potential future discharge and should a discharge be deemed illegal, we would look at alternative means of disposal.”
O’Brien said that four options remain on the table, including evaporating the water, storing it onsite, or shipping it to a disposal facility. While the company continues to favor the release of the water into Cape Cod Bay, O’Brien said it may use a combination of all four.
State Sen. Julian Cyr co-sponsored Moran’s amendment. “The release of contaminated water into Cape Cod Bay has the potential to significantly impact our environment and the lives of locals,” said the Truro Democrat in a statement issued last week. Moran’s amendment will ensure the public has a voice and the process is transparent, Cyr said, adding, “I am thankful to Sen. Moran for her diligence and for standing up for our community members.”
Mary Lampert, an NDCAP member and director of the Duxbury citizens group Pilgrim Watch, said it’s up to the governor now. “These provisions will protect an over $2 billion annual ‘blue economy’ at no cost to the Commonwealth,” Lampert said in an email. “And Holtec has other options to dispose of Pilgrim’s contaminated water.”
Holtec plans to present a list of nonradioactive contaminants in Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool and other systems at the NDCAP Nov. 28 meeting. The company will present historical data on what radioactive elements would be present.