NRC staff recommends renewing license for the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth (Boston Globe)

NRC staff recommends renewing license for the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth (Boston Globe)

After six years of review and a succession of lawsuits, the staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recommended that commissioners vote to renew the license of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, which expires next month.

The staff, in an eight-page document, said the 40-year-old plant has “taken, or will take, appropriate actions to manage the effects of aging during the period of extended operation.”

Entergy Corp., the Louisiana-based company that has run the plant since 1999, has sparked a raft of protests and lawsuits since it sought to renew its license to operate the plant for an additional 20 years. Officials on Friday said they are eager for a vote.

“Pilgrim Station has gone through a six-year, record long, detailed NRC safety and technical review as part of Pilgrim's license renewal application, and we look forward to the NRC's decision,” said Carol Wightman, a spokeswoman for Pilgrim.

But opponents of the plant have urged commissioners to delay their vote until they have a chance to present their concerns about the plant at a hearing.

An NRC official said the recommendation does not mean commissioners will renew the license.

Pilgrim opponents argue that the Entergy can't do enough to ensure safety, given what they view as the intrinsic danger of nuclear plants, especially one 35 miles from Boston and with nearly 5 million people within a 50-mile radius. Their opposition gained new urgency a year ago, when a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered one of the world's worst nuclear disasters at a similarly designed nuclear plant in Japan.

They argue commissioners shouldn't renew Pilgrim's license because of aging pipes beneath the plant that may leak radioactive liquids, problems with electrical cables that transmit power to and from the plant, and the lack of a sufficient cleanup plan in the event of a radiation leak. They also say Pilgrim has failed to do a sufficient analysis of the plant's impact on endangered species in the area.

“The NRC staff's decision is very upsetting because it makes a total mockery out of the process,” said Mary Lampert, director of Pilgrim Watch, who has long called for the plant to be shuttered. “They're essentially requesting that the game be called before the game is over, while the players are still on the field.”

In the recommendation to commissioners, RW Borchardt, executive director for operations at the NRC, dismissed concerns that the plant is unsafe or a threat to the environment.

“The staff finds that there is reasonable assurance that the activities authorized by the renewed license will continue to be conducted safely in accordance with the current licensing,” he wrote.

The plant's license is set to expire on June 8. But the plant will be able to continue operating, until commissioners make a final decision, NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

He said it was not clear when that will happen but that it could come in the next few weeks.

“A decision on how to proceed will ultimately rest with the commission,” Sheehan said in a statement.