Holtec is the company which 'purchased' the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in 2019 from Entergy Corporation. In essence, it paid a nominal amount the Entergy in order to assume responsibility for decommissioning the facility. Why would it do such a thing? Because with that purchase, Holtec received access to the Pilgrim decommissioning fund, which held a little over $1 billion in ratepayer money to be used for decommissioning. Any monies left over in the fund once the job is done is Holtec’s to keep. As a result, Holtec is incentivized to spend as little as possible.
As part of the decommissioning process, Holtec needs to 'dispose' of over 1 million gallons of radioactive water that was used in the spent-fuel pool, the reactor cavity, and other systems. Three options are under consideration.
The first is to release the water, after some filtering, into Cape Cod Bay in batches of 20,000 gallons. This is the method favored by Holtec, and is the cheapest.
The second option is to evaporate the water. In a public statement last month, Holtec said this option would require large amounts of electricity and possibly a diesel generator to produce enough heat.
The third option would be to truck the water out of state to a licensed disposal facility. This is the method currently being used by NorthStar, the company decommissioning the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Holtec has objected to this approach, citing the potential danger of an accident in that process.
Entergy has in past released radioactive water into Plymouth Bay, with notice to, and approval by, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). However, the Holtec plan is to release nearly three times more than has ever been released in a single year. Additionally, there are concerns that the water to be released may contain pollutants other than radioactivity, which would be prohibited under the plant’s discharge permits, and would require separate approval by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Holtec has stated that it will not discharge any radioactive water into Plymouth in 2022, while it is "studying" the issue.
Directs its legal counsel to send demand to Holtec
In a letter sent on behalf of the Town of Duxbury, its legal counsel has asseted that any radioactive water release by Holtec would violate a 2020 settlement agreement between Holtec and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
An Overview of the Massachusetts Legislative Session
The Massachusetts state legislature sits in a biennial session, meaning it spans two calendar years. The session begins on the first Wednesday in January of odd-numbered years. All formal business of the first year of the session must be concluded by the third Wednesday in November of that year. The legislature then sits in an informal session until the first Wednesday of January of the second year (even numbered years). The legislature then continues formal sittings until the last day of July of the second year, and finishes the remainder of the session in an informal sitting.
Any matter pending before the legislature at the end of the first year of its biennial session will carry over into the second legislative year in the same legislative status as it was at the conclusion of the first legislative year. Any legislation not acted upon by the end of the second legislative year is terminated, and must begin the process anew. That means any bill not acted upon by the end of 2022 is essentially dead. Moreover, the chance of enacting legislation after the close of the formal legislative session is very slim. The state House and Senate may take votes during the informal session, but those are generally on uncontroversial matters. That is because they must be unanimous for a proposal to pass.
Proposed Legislation Relating to Holtec
A. Legislation to Prevent Release of Radioactive Water Vetoed by Governor
Joint bills were filed in the House and Senate, and a rider was added to a separate Senate economic development bill which would have prevented, or at least delayed, any potential release of radioactive water by Holtec into Plymouth Bay. No action was taken on the joint bills seeking to prevent such release, so Sen. Susan Moran filed an amendment to the Senate version of the economic development bill which would have delayed any release of radioactive water for at least two years. That bill was originally delayed after Gov. Charlie Baker announced a revenue surplus for the year was expected to trigger a 1986 law that would return up to $3 billion to taxpayers.
After the State budget was finalized, Sen. Moran refiled the amendment [the full text of the refiled amendment is in the section below]. This time it was adopted by both the House and Senate, and included in the joint Economic Development bill, H5374, which was sent to the governor for signature. However, the governor vetoed the section of the bill containing the amendment.
B. Legislation to Permit Plymouth to Tax Spent Nuclear Fuel
The Town of Plymouth, through its state congressional delegation, filed a Home Rule Petition seeking to tax or enter into a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Holtec on its real property and spent nuclear fuel housed in Plymouth.
The bill, H.4768, was filed by representatives Matt Muratore and Kathy LaNatra, and senator Sue Moran in May of 2022. Thereafter, the chair of the Select Board, Betty Cavacco, was contacted by our delegation and informed that the legislature wanted the Town to amend its petition to withdraw its request to be allowed to tax the spent nuclear fuel, meaning the Town could do nothing unless Holtec agreed. Ms. Cavacco, on behalf of the Town declined to change its petition.
The bill received a favorable report and its first reading in the Revenue Committee. This is the first of three mandatory readings in each branch of the legislature, formally referred to as the General Court. This reading is the account of the Committee Report delivered by the Clerk of the House or Senate. Once a bill receives a favorable report from a committee, it is usually sent to the Committee on Steering and Policy or, if it involves state finances, to the Ways and Means Committee first.
In this case, the bill was referred to the Steering, Policy and Scheduling Committee. There the bill received a second reading, meaning that it was released from committee and placed in the Orders of the Day, at which time it is presented on the floor of the chamber and opened for debate and proposed amendments. The bill received a further favorable vote and was sent to the Committee on Bills to be reviewed for legal technicalities and proper citations.
The Committee on Bills referred the bill for a Third Reading, meaning that it was sent to the chamber where it is read for the third and final time, after which it is again debated, amendments are proposed, and a vote taken. But despite being referred for a third reading, it was not taken up by the House before the end of the legislative session, July 31, 2022.
This was not the first time such a bill has died in the State Legislature. During the 2015-2016 legislative session, State Senator Daniel Wolf, representing the Cape and the Islands, presented S.1797, An Act Establishing a Fee on the Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel in Pools. That bill was referred to the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, which reported favorably and then referred it to the Senate Rules Committee. Efforts to pass that legislation ended when no action was taken by January 3, 2017.
Notably, while Massachusetts has failed to enact such legislation, New York has succeeded. On December 30, 2020, New York’s governor signed legislation effective January 1, 2021, which treats “spent fuel pools and dry cask storage systems in which nuclear fuel is stored and is pending further or final disposal from a nuclear power station following the permanent cession of power operations of such station” as real property subject to assessment and taxation under New York’s Real Property Tax Law.
Much of this is due to the failure of the federal government to come up with an approved disposal site per the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. That law designated Yucca Mountain as the nation’s sole, permanent repository for commercial spent fuel and required the government to begin disposing of commercial spent fuel by January 1998 (but not the radioactive water from the pools those rods sit in, which can be disposed of elsewhere). However, the Obama administration sought to terminate the Yucca Mountain project, and Congress has not appropriated the funds needed to complete the licensing process and construct the facility. As a result, nuclear plants have been storing their spent fuel in pools and dry casks at the site of their facilities.
In fact, because the federal government has failed to meet its obligations, plant owners have sued the government and have been recovering costs caused by the government’s breach. Some 78 breach of contract claims were filed against the Department of Energy (DOE) as of 2012, resulting in over $2 billion in damage awards and settlements. In 2010 alone, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims awarded nuclear utilities approximately $507 million in contract damages. By DOE estimates, damages for partial breach of contract claims measured close to $20.8 billion as of 2020, with an additional $500 million in additional legal damages per year after that. Boston Edison, Entergy, and Holtec have all brought claims against the DOE, which has resulted in over 20 years of litigation which is still ongoing (only Entergy has settled its claims), meaning Holtec can still receive even more money from the Federal Government for the costs associated with the continued storage of the spent nuclear fuel rods.
(a) There shall be a special commission to examine the potential negative environmental and economic impacts caused by the discharge of spent fuel pool water, any materials created as a waste product of nuclear energy from spent fuel pools, including, but not limited to, processed water or any other liquid with elevated levels of radioactivity, including, but not limited to, tritium or boron, associated with the decommissioning of any nuclear power plant, into the waters of the commonwealth. Waters of the commonwealth shall include all waters under the jurisdiction of the division of marine fisheries, including, but not limited to, bays, coastal waters, canals, rivers and streams.
(b) The commission shall consist of the following 13 members: the attorney general or a designee, who shall serve as co-chair; the governor or a designee; the secretary of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs or a designee, who shall serve as co-chair; the senate president or a designee; the speaker of the house of representatives or a designee; the senate minority leader or a designee; the house of representatives minority leader or a designee; the chairs of the joint committee on the environment, natural resources and agriculture or their designees; the commissioner of the department of environmental protection or a designee; the commissioner of the department of public health or a designee; the executive director of the office of travel and tourism or a designee; and the director of the division of marine fisheries or a designee.
(c) The commission shall: (i) examine and investigate the potential environmental and economic impacts, including impacts to consumer perception of the discharge spent fuel wastewater on the fishing, aquaculture, tourism, restaurant industries and other sectors deemed appropriate by the commission; and (ii) make recommendations on measures to mitigate or avoid potential negative impacts on such industries.
(d) The commission shall hold not less than 4 listening sessions, with not less than 1 listening session in the following counties: Dukes, Plymouth, Bristol and Barnstable; provided, however, that upon the completion of its report under this section, the commission shall provide a public presentation in said counties. Not later than November 1, 2024 the commission shall file a report on the results of its study with the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate, the joint committee on environment, natural resources and agriculture, the joint committee on public health, the joint committee on tourism, arts and cultural development, the joint committee on economic development and emerging technologies and the senate and house committees on ways and means.
(e) There shall be no discharge of spent fuel pool water, any materials created as a waste product of nuclear energy from spent fuel pools, including, but not limited to, processed water or any other liquid with elevated levels of radioactivity, including, but not limited to, tritium or boron into the waters of the commonwealth until 90 days after the issuance of the commission’s report.
Contrary to statements being made by other Holtec representatives, the CEO of Holtec, Kris Singh, has already rejected the idea of transporting radioactive wastewater at the Pilgrim site to a licensed disposal facility. He did so in a letter to Sen. Edward Markey (D. Mass.) dated June 6, 2022, following a public hearing a month earlier. In his letter, Mr. Singh states, "We have pointed out that the suggestion made in the hearing to ship the water to another location for discharge runs counter to the basic tenets of environmental justice, which has led us to discard the idea." Curiously, Mr. Singh fails to note that Holtec is already transporting other radioactive materials from the Pilgrim site to disposal facilities in other states. Not surprisingly, Mr. Singh does reference the added cost Holtec would incur in properly disposing of the radioactive water in question. Mr. Singh's statement is consistent with other communications issued by Holtec.
While Holtec may be 'rejecting' the shipment alternative, the ultimate decision may not be up them. That is because Holtec needs permission from both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for such action. And the EPA has now made it clear that Holtec doesn;t have such permission under its existing permis.
In a Public Information Sheet (which can be viewed below), Holtec indicated that per its existing permits, once treated, it was allowed to proceed with the release of spent fuel pond water into Plymouth Bay, as had been done before by Entergy. However, in a June 17, 2022 letter to Holtec, EPA Region 1 Water Director Ken Moraff rejected that assertion.
Director Moraff specifically noted that the method od disposal of the water in question was not included in the original permit as there was insufficient information provided by Holtec's predecessor, Entergy, regarding the potential impacts of the proposed discharge. Moreover, he reminded Holtc that while it has previously appealed certain portions of the applicable permit, it did not appeal the section whch relates to disposal. Accordingly, Holtec will need to obtain a new EPA permit if it wishes to proceed with the release into Plymouth Bay. Director Morff's full letter can be read below.
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chair of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate and Nuclear Safety, announced that the subcommittee will hold a field hearing on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Plymouth. The subcommittee will discuss policies regarding the decommissioning process for nuclear plants such as the Pilgrim Nuclear Station, including nuclear safety and security issues and state, local, and community stakeholder engagement. The hearing will take place at Plymouth Town Hall in the 1820 Courtroom. Additional details on the hearing, including witnesses and livestream information, will be announced in the coming weeks.
Read the letter to the Nuclear Regulartory Commission sent by the Superintendent of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary opposing the Holtec radioactive water release
Click below for an excellent chronology of events relating to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant prepared by the Jones River Landing Environmental Heritage Center.
Four members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation (Senators Warren and Markey and Representatives Keating and Moulton) have signed a letter opposing the discharge.
Our State representatives have sponsored two bills currently pending in the State legislature that would prohibit such discharges; H4444 (Reps. Cutler and LaNatra) and S2791 (Sen. Moran).
A number of Town (South Shore and Cape) and State representatives appeared at a rally on April 9, 2022, to speak in opposition to any release into Cape Cod Bay. The rally was organized by those whole livelihoods depend on the health of Cape Cod Bay.
There are a number of websites which can help those concerned learn more about the proposal, the decommissioning process, and how to stay informed:
Nuclear Decommissioning CitizensAdvisory Panel (NDCAP)
The NDCAP is tasked with keeping the public informed on the activities related to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station shut down. Their meetings which are open ar the third Monday of every month, except August and December.
Save Cape Cod Bay
Save Cape Cod Bay is a grassroots organization dedicated to the preservation of the bay and prevention of dumping of radioactive or waste material by Holtec.
Part of its "EXPLAINER" series, a good story summarizing the history and issues.
You can also make your voice heard by contacting our State representatives:
State Attorney General:
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