Nuclear Regulatory Commission delivers another blow to Pilgrim Watch (updated)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has rejected Pilgrim Watch’s latest bid to derail the relicensing of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

The Duxbury-based nuclear watchdog group  recently argued that the disaster at the Fukashima Nuclear Power plant in Japan raised new concerns that should be addressed before Pilgrim gets its license. The Japanese plant and Pilgrim used the same model reactor.

While Pilgrim Watch has argued that what happened in Japan should be taken into account in deciding the future of Pilgrim Station, the NRC states in its ruling that licensing decisions should be separate from whatever conclusions it reaches about Fukashima. Plant licenses can be modified if it needed, according to the ruling.

In an e-mail about the decision, Pilgrim Watch leader Mary Lampert noted Germany was one of several countries to shut down operations at nuclear power plants until they were certain about what happened in Japan. Lampert contrasts that with the NRC which, she writes, “shows that NRC Commissioners have decided to go forward with licensing until they are certain that it is not alright to do so,” and further calling the commission biased in favor of the nuclear industry.

As the NRC’s decision noted, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board decded Pilgrim Watch did not meet the standards for reopening the case, finding that Pilgrim Watch’s appeal wasn’t timely or appropriate.

The ASLB ruled Pilgrim Watch failed to meet the standards required for opening a closed matter, since they weren’t timely and didn’t meet other requirements. For example, the ASLB noted, “definitive information on what occurred at Fukushima is not yet available,” calling Pilgrim Watch’s conclusions about what happened there “generalized.” According to the licensing board, much of what Pilgrim Watch was arguing now could have been brought up much earlier in the relicensing process.

In another part of the ruling, the NRC ruling made a similar argument against Pilgrim Watch, noting its argument about Pilgrim Station’s torus vent had been studied when Entergy, the power plant’s owner, had originally filed its application and concerned issues that had been known for years. The torus is designed to contain hear when large amounts of steam are released from the plant.

The ASLB ruling, the NRC decision wrote, called much of what Pilgrim Watch was arguing regarding Fukashima, and its relevance to Pilgrim was “based on layers of speculation” and that the group offered no evidence linking the two plants other than their shared design. Pilgrim Watch, the decision states “provides nothing to back up its generalized claims that the…analysis underestimates the consequences of a severe accident” and calls the groups other claims “unsupported assertions” about the relevance of the Fukushima disaster.

In the view of the ASLB, the fact that Fukushima is an-going situation makes it difficult to figure out the ultimate consequences, and the NRC ruling states “Pilgrim Watch makes no attempt to indicate how the consequences would be greater than currently assumed, or what changes would occur.”
PIlgrim Watch still has three other arguments under review by nuclear regulators.

Carol Wightman, spokesman for Pilgrim Station, was quoted in the energy blog Enformable that the company was pleased with the NRC's decision.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko dissented from the ruling, arguing the standard used in reopening the case shouldn’t be used in a matter related to the Fukashima disaster. He went on to argue that what happened overseas was important enough to allow further hearings as new information was learned. Closing the matter unfairly limits public participation, he wrote.

Read the NRC's decision

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