WELLFLEET — Candace Perry still has a sticker on her Subaru Forester that reads: “Pilgrim Blows: Bridges Close!” Perry first stuck it on her bumper when the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth was still churning out energy and producing hundreds of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel. But the slogan still applies.
Pilgrim was permanently shut down in May 2019, and many residents thought that was the end of nearly five decades of worry over a release of radiation. But more than 4,000 radioactive spent fuel assemblies remain on the Pilgrim site.
“Shutting it down doesn’t make it over,” said Perry, who is a member of the Down Cape Downwinders. “It’s important to keep people aware, but we’re fighting the weariness of it.”
Diane Turco, founder and director of the Cape Downwinders, has been pushing state Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Sarah Peake to file a bill this session to establish a 50-mile emergency planning zone around Pilgrim, so that a plan would be in place for the Cape and Islands should there be an accident. The bill would keep the zone established as long as the spent fuel is stored in Plymouth.
As it stands now, Cape residents would be directed to shelter in place following a radiological release. Both auto bridges over the canal would likely be closed while mainland residents in areas around the plant were evacuated.
Bills to expand the emergency planning zone to cover the Cape and Islands were filed by Peake and Cyr in the last three legislative sessions. All of them failed. Generally, they don’t even make it out of committee.
In the current session, Sen. Susan Moran, a Falmouth Democrat, filed two Pilgrim-related bills, but neither would bring the Cape any relief. One would re-establish the 10-mile emergency zone around Pilgrim, which was eliminated under a federal exemption months after the reactor shut down. No part of the Cape is within the 10-mile radius.
Moran’s second bill would require nuclear power plant owners to pay $25 million annually into a post-closure trust fund so taxpayers aren’t left shouldering decommissioning costs. The bill is worded so that the payments would stop once the spent fuel is in dry casks, which will happen at Pilgrim by the end of this year.
What’s needed, said Turco, is a 50-mile zone that would remain in effect right up until the spent fuel is moved out of Plymouth.
Plant watchdogs agree.
“We on the Outer Cape are quite vulnerable, with Provincetown only 20 miles downwind, and with nowhere to run except west, toward a potential emergency,” said Brian O’Malley, Provincetown’s representative on the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates in an email.
In Truro, Brian Boyle said Pilgrim remains dangerous as long as the spent fuel is there.
“Storage in Plymouth will be measured in decades, not years,” Boyle said. “Pilgrim is upwind from Truro. Any issues with contamination would find their way to Truro pretty quickly.”
The quality of the dry casks being used by Holtec International, the company that owns and is decommissioning Pilgrim, has been called into question. They are guaranteed for only 25 years, and there is no solid plan of action if a cask cracks and leaks.
Cyr and Peake both begrudgingly agreed earlier this week to file Turco’s suggested bill to establish a 50-mile emergency protection zone, but the bill won’t necessarily carry their support.
Peake told the Independent by text that “maintaining the protections of even a 10-mile EPZ is a heavy lift.” She had suggested more nuanced wording to Turco: that the bill set a 10-mile zone “plus Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties.”
Cyr’s office told Turco the senator “strongly agreed” with Peake.
Turco maintains the need for a 50-mile radius, saying that would include Boston, a high population area that could be contaminated by a radiation release. More political districts in the zone would also mean more support from their legislative representatives, she said.
Cyr has agreed to file the bill with Turco’s wording as a “constituent by-request bill.” Such bills don’t necessarily carry the support of the legislators who file them.
Peake may do the same. On Tuesday, she said she was “leaning” toward filing it as a by-request bill.
Cyr’s office said the senator is focusing on securing continued funding for water quality monitoring in Cape Cod Bay for tritium and other Pilgrim-related contaminants by the state Dept. of Public Health.
“As Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station continues through the decommissioning process, significant environmental and public health risks remain,” Cyr said in a statement. “I will continue to advocate alongside my colleagues in the Cape and Islands delegation to protect the public and our fragile environment so long as the site remains a risk.”