October 31, 2018

Warren Presses Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Safety Concerns at Pilgrim Power Plant

Senator Calls for Stronger Oversight Following Reports of Unplanned Shutdowns, Equipment Problems

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Boston, MA - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to Kristine Svinicki, Chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), to reiterate her concerns regarding the safety operations at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station ("Pilgrim") in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  The senator's letter, which marks the sixth time she has written to the NRC regarding Pilgrim's safety concerns, comes amid reports that the plant has been powered down for a total of 57 days this year due to equipment problems. 

Entergy Corporation, which owns the 46-year old Pilgrim plant, announced in 2015 that the plant would close in 2019 following the news that it had entered Column 4 of the NRC's Oversight Process Action Matrix, the lowest safety designation a plant can receive without being required to shut down.  Earlier this month, in what was the latest in several shutdowns that have occurred at the plant this year alone, Pilgrim reportedly went into an unplanned automatic shutdown when a valve that regulates water flow into the reactor unexpectedly closed, causing a drop in reactor water level.  As of October 9, 2018, Pilgrim had been offline 57 days.

In her letter to the NRC, Senator Warren expressed concern with the NRC's efforts to ensure safe operations at Pilgrim during its last full calendar year of operation, citing the recent 57-day shutdown at the plant.  The senator also noted that the plant is listed as the worst performed of the nation's 98-reactor commercial fleet.

"Given Pilgrim's status placement in Column 4 of the NRC's Oversight Process Action Matrix... and it's repetitive safety failures and unscheduled shut downs, it is deeply alarming that the NRC has not taken additional steps to ensure that Entergy is safely operating the Pilgrim plant," wrote Senator Warren.

The senator also criticized the NRC for granting the plant several extensions and exemptions from implementing key safety measures such as cybersecurity updates, upgrades to vent systems, and emergency planning zone requirements. 

"Time and time again, the NRC have ignored critical discrepancies in safety measures and put Massachusetts residents at risk," the senator continued. "The health and well-being of our constituents depends on the NRC's commitment to establishing standards that keep plants functioning safety and to ensuring that operators continually meet those standards."

The Senator called on the agency to step up its oversight of the Pilgrim plant and to address the continuing safety concerns before the plant closes in June 2019 and as it is decommissioned in 2020.  In February, Senator Warren joined Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Bill Keating (D-Mass.) in sending a letter to the NRC expressing concern about Pilgrim's decision not to preemptively shut down the reactor ahead of a severe snowstorm in early January.