PLYMOUTH — Nearly all of the more than 700 written comments sent so far to the state’s Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) urge the agency to finalize its denial of a permit that would allow Holtec Decommissioning International to release up to 1.1 million gallons of irradiated wastewater from the former Pilgrim nuclear plant into Cape Cod Bay.
The deadline for submitting comments is Aug. 31.
Holtec is looking for approval from the state to amend its surface water discharge permit. At the same time, the company is pursuing a separate approval for the release by seeking a go-ahead from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to amend its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Without the state permit, though, the EPA approval can’t be granted.
The EPA has not yet acted on the federal permit amendment, but Mass. DEP issued a draft decision in late July denying the amendment to the surface water discharge permit, based on the Ocean Sanctuaries Act. That act prohibits the discharge of industrial wastes into water bodies designated as ocean sanctuaries, including Cape Cod Bay.
Some of the written public comments got right to the point: Carolyn Parker wrote, “Really? Radioactive pollution in our bay? No! No! No! No!”
James Lampert, an attorney and longtime watchdog of the nuclear plant, submitted a 50-page document citing a long list of state laws that would prohibit the release of the wastewater into the bay, as well as the court settlement Holtec signed in 2020 saying it would comply with state laws.
Comments came in from environmental organizations, representatives of the fishing and tourism industries, real estate brokers, and those who live or vacation in the Plymouth area and on Cape Cod.
The coastal region is known for its natural beauty, said the Mass. Association of Realtors in its letter. “The reputational harm to the attractiveness of this area as both a place to call home and a place to vacation will be irreparable if nuclear waste dumping is permitted,” the organization said.
Beth Casoni, the executive director of the Mass. Lobstermen’s Association, wrote that the release of wastewater into the bay would devastate the commercial fishing and shellfishing industries here.
Hundreds of Cape Cod residents submitted comments.
“I am a North Truro resident directly in the line of fire that Holtec proposed poisoning with the discharge,” wrote Laurie Veninger. She pointed to the $1-billion decommissioning trust fund Holtec received when it purchased the plant. “It seems to me simply dumping the waste into Cape Cod Bay is how they intend to keep as much of that money for themselves,” she wrote, “rather than decommission the plant in a responsible and environmentally safe and sensible way.”
In her letter, Wellfleet resident Amy Daimant asked DEP to finalize its denial of the discharge permit. “Our fragile environment on Cape Cod needs your protection from all forms of damage to public health, economic vitality, and environmental diversity,” she wrote.
One of the few written comments that opposed the DEP decision to deny the permit came from Plymouth resident Brett Hannigan. “While I understand environmental concerns, if you want [the wastewater] gone, stop getting in the way.”
Holtec had not yet submitted its written comments by the Independent’s deadline, nor did company representatives speak at the recent public hearing. Spokesman Patrick O’Brien said the company planned to make its submission on deadline day.
A long list of speakers packed a Plymouth Town Hall meeting room on Aug. 24, providing DEP officials with more feedback to factor into the agency’s final decision on the water discharge permit. As with the written comments, most speakers expressed support of the state’s preliminary decision to deny the amendment to the permit.
Orleans resident Doug Long said Skaket Beach “is heavily populated in the summertime by kids, teens, and other rascals, and they are all in the water.”
Discharging the wastewater into the bay makes no sense, Long said. “How many parents will tell their kids, ‘Wow, it’s just so exciting: radiation coming your way to coat your arms and legs and bodies.’ ”
Don Keeran, assistant director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, told DEP hearing officials, “Simply put, it’s illegal. We strongly believe there is no choice but to deny.”
Mary Lampert, James Lampert’s wife and president of the Pilgrim Watch citizens group, urged DEP to cite all the Massachusetts laws that prohibit the discharge in its final written decision, including the Mass. Endangered Species Act, the Mass. Crimes Against Public Health law that makes it a crime to discharge “waste or other material of any kind in or upon coastal and inland waters,” and the state Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention Act. All prohibit discharges of pollutants.
Citing all the laws in its denial will allow DEP to use them in court if Holtec appeals the decision, she said: “Multiple arrows in the quiver are better than one.”
The Lamperts are members of the NDCAP panel advising on Pilgrim’s decommissioning.
A handful of speakers urged state officials to reverse the denial and grant Holtec’s request, including Pine duBois, executive director of the Jones River Watershed Association in Kingston and cochair of the NDCAP panel.
“What concerns me most is that a delay in dealing with the wastewater almost certainly delays decommissioning of the entire site,” duBois said. Sea level is rising faster than predicted, said duBois, so it’s important to get the site cleaned up quickly. “If we fail to remediate the stormwater systems and the contamination that we know is in the soils, virtually all of that contamination will migrate to the bay.” That outcome would be worse than releasing the 1.1 million gallons of wastewater, duBois said.
Shawn Noyes, a member of a pro-nuclear group called Eco-Nuclear Solutions and not a relative of the plant’s senior compliance manager, David Noyes, argued that the dismantling and decommissioning of a nuclear plant “are essential phases in the life cycle of any power plant.
“It’s crucial that we’ve made decisions grounded in science and evidence rather than allowing emotion to cloud our judgment,” Noyes said.
State officials gave no deadline for finalizing their draft denial. “MassDEP will issue their decision after thorough review and consideration of all comments submitted and immediately upon making appropriate updates to the draft decision,” said the agency’s Deputy Press Secretary Fabienne Alexis.