Selectmen want answers about Pilgrim Nuclear safety concerns after memo is leaked

The Board of Selectmen don’t just want to hear from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, they demand it.

Selectmen were prompted to meet in an emergency session after a memo was leaked by an NRC official that described staff at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station as being “overwhelmed by just trying to run the station.” The memo came to the board’s attention via an article in the Cape Cod Times. The memo was written to update NRC officials about the inspection currently taking place at the power plant.

The inspection is the last in a series prompted by a series of safety violations that have put Pilgrim in the NRC’s lowest safety category

In response, selectmen voted to send a letter to the NRC and Entergy, the Pilgrim Station’s owner, “demanding” they send representatives to explain the memo. A copy will be sent to Governor Charlie Baker, along with Plymouth’s delegation to the state legislature and the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation.

“We don’t want to be alarmist, but we don’t know what’s going on,” said Selectmen Chairman Ken Tavares. Board members, he noted, first got wind of the memo Tuesday night, but no one from either the NRC or Entergy, the plant’s owner, contacted them directly.

“If the plant seems overwhelmed, it doesn’t give anyone any confidence,” said Selectman John Mahoney. He noted that if the memo was leaked unintentionally, “that shows more incompetence.”   “It’s disturbing to see some of these allegations,” said Selectman Sean Page. “If all of these issues are going on, there are serious issues that need to have immediate attention.

Selectman Tony Provenzano said there was a lack of context for the memo, but added that it “creates alarm for the public.”

Few people attended the meeting, which was unsurprising since it was only announced two hours before it started, but many of those who showed up were unimpressed by either the NRC or Entergy. “I have my doubts if people at plant are competent. If this memo has credence,  it snows NRC isn’t doing its job either,” said Precinct 12 Town Meeting Member Steve Lydon. They may be meeting the letter of the law, but they can’t see the forest from the trees,” said Kingston resident Sara Alterr.

A different concern was raised by Nuclear Matters Committee member Joe Coughlin. The leaked memo, he said, created unnecessary concern, since the inspection is only a week old. Releasing the memo to the public, whether by accident or on purpose, was irresponsible, he said.  He called on the federal government  to investigate and prosecute whoever released it. The memo was written by Donald Jackson, chief of operations at the NRC’s Northeast region, according to the Cape Cod Times.

Joe Lynch, the government affairs manager for Pilgrim Station, played down the memo. “It’s notes, it’s preliminary,” he said. He said staff at the plant was focused on a successful inspection. “We believe the plant is absolutely safe,” he said.

A statement from the NRC noted that the observations made in the memo are preliminary and it would be “difficult, if not impossible, to predict at” how they will factor into the final report.

Watch the Selectmen’s meeting

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