Plymouth nuclear plant relicensing

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two fish - the Atlantic sturgeon and the river herring - have been invoked to threaten the relicensing of a nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, the only operating commercial nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, is a 688 MW boiling water nuclear reactor owned by Entergy.  Originally commissioned in 1972 by utility Boston Edison, its original license had the maximum 40-year term allowed under the Atomic Energy Act.  That license is due to expire on June 8, 2012.

Entergy applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license renewal, seeking the 20 year term allowed for relicensing.  That case remains pending.  Stakeholders have raised a number of concerns about the plant's relicensing.  For example, Pilgrim Station is built around a General Electric Mark I reactor, the same type and design as used in the ill-fated Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant; like Fukushima, the Plymouth plant is located on the coast.  While the Pilgrim plant was designed to handle anticipated natural disasters, some believe the U.S. nuclear industry should be reevaluated in light of the Fukushima incident.

Now, U.S. Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts has sent a letter to NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko requesting that the NRC not re-license Pilgrim Station "until all legal requirements stipulated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been met."  Specifically, Congressman Markey notes that two threatened fish species - the Atlantic sturgeon and the river herring - inhabit the waters near the plant but were not considered in a key assessment of threatened or endangered species likely to be affected by relicensure.  His letter also notes that the National Marine Fisheries Service has not yet issued a written biological opinion proposing a plan to protect threatened or endangered species, nor has the NMFS issued a written concurrence with the NRC's biological opinion.

These species were known to live in the area in 2007 when the NRC wrote its biological assessment, but were not designated as threatened at that time.  NMFS designated the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment of Atlantic Sturgeon as threatened in February 2012, and two species of river herring are currently candidates for listing.

Based on these newly designated statuses, Congressman Markey asked NRC not to re-license the Pilgrim project until after the development of a new biological assessment to include the sturgeon and herring, along with any conditions needed to protect those species.

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