Pilgrim nuclear plant foes cry foul
PLYMOUTH — Two weeks after an electrical malfunction caused the shutdown of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s reactor, the plant is still not at full power. Representatives from Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, initially attributed the delayed return to standard procedure. Shutdowns provide opportunities to address items on a reactor’s “to do” list, they said.
But federal nuclear energy officials confirmed Tuesday that a failed motor in one of three massive pumps that supply water to the reactor was keeping the plant from operating at peak. The burned-out motor, within days of the wiring problem, had nuclear watchdogs talking.
Diane Turco, a Harwich resident and founder of the Cape Downwinders, compared the 41-year-old plant to an old Volkswagen Beetle. “You keep repairing it bit by bit until the front wheels fall off,” Turco said. “This is a far too serious situation to keep having problems. They need to close the reactor.”
Mary Lampert, founder of Pilgrim Watch, called the two plant problems “an example of one thing after another.”
“It’s indicative they’re not spending the money to make sure the equipment is in operable condition,” Lampert said. A replacement motor was in stock at the plant, but it had last been refurbished in about 2007. Plant officials decided to send it out for an inspection before installing it.
The motor was checked and is now awaiting installation. “It’s fair to say any power plant has operational conditions that need to be managed, and we’re doing a good job of responding and getting the plant back to full power,” said James Sinclair, spokesman for Entergy.
Lampert said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be demanding better performance from Pilgrim. “The NRC doesn’t seem capable of developing a backbone and making sure they’re doing what they should be doing,” Lampert said.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said feed-water pumps are a production issue, not a safety issue. They provide water for the nuclear reaction process. “Still we are certainly going to monitor the work,” Sheehan said of the motor installation.
On Aug. 22, a breaker had tripped due to a faulty electric cable in the junction box, causing the three large feed-water pumps to shut down. Workers immediately halted the nuclear reaction process.
Pilgrim was at zero power from Aug. 23 to 25, then very slowly powered up over the next three days to 20 percent. On Aug. 29, power reached 74 percent and now hovers at about 76 percent.
While the lower production rate would seemingly result in lost revenue, Sinclair said Entergy does not comment on production-related issues for business reasons.
In its mid-year performance review released Wednesday, the NRC appeared satisfied with the Plymouth plant. “Pilgrim operated in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives,” the review letter said.
The NRC will continue to oversee Pilgrim at the level used for plants that meet performance standards.
Sheehan said the August shutdown, the plant’s fifth unplanned shutdown in the last 15 months, wasn’t factored into the mid-year review, but will be considered as part of the NRC’s third quarter report later this fall.
“We are still evaluating whether there will be any changes in oversight due to the number of unplanned shutdowns,” Sheehan wrote in an email.