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State demands data on airborne pollution from Pilgrim Nuclear

David Noyes, a compliance manager at Holtec International, speaks during the Jan. 29 meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, as residents hold signs signs that read, "HALT HOLTEC EVAPORATION."
Jennette Barnes
/
CAI
David Noyes, a compliance manager at Holtec International, speaks during the Jan. 29 meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, as residents hold signs signs that read, "HALT HOLTEC EVAPORATION."

The state is asking the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to submit an analysis of potential air pollution stemming from evaporation at the plant.

Although the water evaporating from Pilgrim contains radioactive material, the state Department of Environmental Protection is focused on the non-radioactive contaminants it regulates.

Speaking Monday at a meeting of the state panel on Pilgrim, Seth Pickering, DEP deputy regional director, said the report from Pilgrim owner Holtec International should detail airborne pollution from the water contaminants documented by state testing last spring, and any additional pollutants added since that time.

As of Monday, the state had not issued the request in writing, but would do so soon, he said.

The testing in April showed metals, volatile organic compounds, and PFAS chemicals in the water.

Holtec recently installed a new water filtration system at the plant, but the system is not designed to reduce contaminants in evaporated water.

David Noyes, a Holtec compliance manager, said the filter was installed two or three weeks ago to remove metal shards that are breaking off as the reactor is cut up for disposal.

“We realized, in doing the work deeper in the reactor vessel, that we were going to need more filtration capability to be able to keep a high level of water clarity,” he said.

The filter does remove some radioactive particulates, but that is a byproduct of its main purpose, he said.

Holtec is seeking a state permit modification to discharge about a million gallons of treated radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay. Much of the contamination — though not all — could be removed prior to discharge. The water would meet federal standards, but opponents say releasing any pollution into the bay is unacceptable.

The environmental agency has not issued a final decision on that permit, and the decision will likely lead to an appeal.

Meanwhile, the state panel on Pilgrim, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, discussed alternative methods Monday of disposing of water from the plant’s reactor system. The discussion focused on shipping the water to an out-of-state facility.

Panel member Pine DuBois said she doesn’t like the idea; she estimated it would take 200 trucks to move the water, only to put it in someone else’s backyard.

“It's a waste of gas, and a waste of time, and a waste of money, and … it's excessively dangerous, only to satisfy a fear,” she said.

But panel member Mary Lampert says she favors trucking the water to a disposal facility. She said trucking is safe, and that Pilgrim is already using the same Texas disposal site for other low-level radioactive waste.

“There’s no perfect solution — none whatsoever,” she said.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.