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Federal regulators blasted NRC gets an earful as angry citizens air grievances in Plymouth

Source: 
Kingston Reporter

PLYMOUTH - "Disappointed." "Rigged." "Travesty." "Shameful." "Insulted." "Ignored."

Those were just a few of the heated words spoken by angry residents, officials and activists at a public hearing Wednesday evening held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Plymouth. People lined up to speak their minds about the recent license transfer of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station to Holtec International despite several motions for delay until the public could provide input.

"We're here, all of us, not because we have any confidence that our opinions, based on past practices, will change anything," said Sean Mullin of Plymouth during the meeting at the Hotel 1620 Plymouth Harbor ballroom. "We're here because we can't be silent when what is wrong is so clear."

The "wrong" Mullin cited is the concern by many in the community that the NRC is only representing the interests of the nuclear industry. Some people are worried the new Pilgrim owner does not have the qualifications or financial ability to decommission the site in eight years, like it announced it would do. Others are upset that Holtec and its subsidiaries have been the subject of federal and state legal investigations into alleged bribery schemes and other wrongdoing.

An obviously reluctant NRC staff was on hand to listen to residents and others as part of a series of meetings required by Congress through the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act to hear comments on establishing local community advisory boards for decommissioning nuclear power reactors.

In his opening remarks, Bruce Watson acknowledged the NRC was in Plymouth because it had to be.

"We were mandated to be here by Congress," said the chief of Reactor Decommissioning.

The timing of this meeting was less than three weeks after the NRC approved the license transfer from Entergy Nuclear on Aug. 22. Contentions requesting a stay filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General and Pilgrim Watch, a local nuclear watchdog group, have not yet been heard by the NRC.

NRC Facilitator Brett Klukan said the "sole purpose" of the meeting was to learn about best practices for the CABs. Most speakers casually mentioned that reason for the boards, then launched into litany of laments about how the NRC has ignored their opinions and stymied dialog.

Mullin, chair of the state's Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, spoke at length at the proceeding - often to applause from the audience - and chastised the NRC for ignoring the public and favoring private interests. He cited how Pilgrim employees told him they knew three months in advance that the license transfer application would be approved in August.

"The entire system, the regulations, the policies, the practices are rigged in favor of the nuclear power industry," he said, adding, "The outcome of the license transfer, decommissioning and exemption approvals was known to the companies involved well before the decision was made - almost down to the exact date! As a result, I can only conclude that the NRC's process and decision on the license transfer and decommissioning has been nothing short of a travesty and a sham. This is the definition of rigged."

Ken Tavares, chair of the Plymouth Select Board, said he was "extremely disappointed" in the NRC. He noted that he has been involved with discussions on the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station since the 1970s, when he first served as a selectman.

"My respect for the federal government, for the Congress and the rules that we are actually governed by right now scare the living daylights out of me," he said. "I don't think we are out of the woods and I'm hoping that word will get back to the right people at the right time that we all need help. This process has to change. It's not working."

State Sen. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, demonstrated his frustration with the NRC by describing a request for information on the trust fund for decommissioning and who would be liable if there was not enough money to complete the work. He said was told to submit his questions in writing, which he did, then received a letter six weeks later stating the NRC could not answer that question because of pending hearings.

"It was a pretty simple question," he said. "This is just another example of how disappointed we are with the process. I say this to really make this message clear to Congress."

He added, "At the end of the day, we are a de facto spent-fuel repository for nuclear waste. I'm simply asking, 'How do we know we are being protected?' I do not believe the NRC was fair in dealing with us through this process."

Dan Wolf, a former state senator from Cape Cod who authored legislation with deMacedo and state Rep. Matt Muratore to create the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, said hearings need to be heard before NRC decisions are made. He also said that representatives of the companies involved should not be allowed to sit on the Citizen Advisory Boards as is being proposed.

"This is an example yet again of where our government is letting our citizens down," he said. "You can't let the elephants guard the peanuts because they will eat them."

Richard Rothstein of Plymouth asked the NRC to provide in writing within seven days the facts on why it approved the license transfer to Holtec. He is a former chair of the Nuclear Matters Committee for the Plymouth Select Board and a current NDCAP member. He also worked for four decades as a consultant involved in licensing nuclear power plants.

"I'd like to see those facts," he said. "I can't advise these people in this room and others on the panel until I have those facts. I can be the best supporter of the NRC, as I have tried to be over the years, or I can be the worst enemy. Don't make me be the worst enemy."

Joanne Corrigan of Plymouth, a member of the new watchdog group Pilgrims for Safe Decommissioning, said the NRC has "no credibility" because it would not listen to the concerns of citizens. She described a conversation she had once with regulators about the evacuation plan in case of an emergency at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

"You can't get out of Plymouth on a Sunday night in July or August," she said. "That plan is not going to work."

Several other people also spoke at the hearing, all in opposition to the way the NRC has conducted itself during the past nearly 50 years of operation of the Plymouth nuclear facility and its recent handling of the license transfer to Holtec.

Watson summed up the meeting by saying he will report back to Congress with his findings.

"I heard that the NRC needs to improve its policies and communicate better with the public," he said. "We need to listen and provide more time for input."

He urged citizens to continue contacting the NRC with their comments and opinions about the creations of community advisory boards. He said people can fill out or download a form for input at https://www.nrc.gov/waste/decommissioning/neima-localcomm-advisory-board-questionnaire.html.

Completed forms can be submitted electronically to federal rulemaking website: http://www.regulations.gov at Docket ID NRC-2019-0073-0001. They can also be scanned and sent via email to NEIMA108.Resource@nrc.gov, or mailed to Kim Conway, US NRC, 11545 Rockville Pike, Mail Stop T-5 A10, Rockville, MD 20852.

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