BOSTON (SHNS) – Attorney General Maura Healey and the Baker administration have struck a deal with the company that owns the inactive nuclear plant in Plymouth that will require the company to maintain a decommissioning trust fund at a minimum balance and will settle lawsuits the state filed against federal nuclear energy regulators.
Healey and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced the agreement with Holtec Decommissioning International on Wednesday and said it will ensure that Massachusetts gets assurances that the company is financially stable and able to safely decommission Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.
“Since the beginning of this proposed transfer, we have prioritized the health, safety and interests of our residents, and took steps to ensure that the local community and environment are protected,” Healey said. “This agreement provides critical protections, includes compliance measures stricter than federal requirements, and secures the funds necessary to safely and properly clean up this site. We are grateful for the partnership with our state agencies to establish this clear framework and oversight that will be needed to complete this work safely.”
Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said the agreement is of “vital importance” to public health and noted that the agreement “ensures that the cleanup of the site is overseen by state agencies and be held to the Commonwealth’s strict radiological and non-radiological hazardous waste cleanup standards, and that the necessary funds will continue to be available to ensure that natural resources are restored and public health protected.”
The Plymouth nuclear plant, which employed about 600 people and had been generating about 680 megawatts of electricity per year since coming online in 1972, permanently ceased operations May 31, 2019.
Last September, Healey and EEA sued the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit over the agency’s decision in September to approve the transfer of Pilgrim’s license from Entergy to Holtec.
The attorney general, Gov. Charlie Baker’s energy and environment secretariat and members of the state’s Congressional delegation mounted an effort to block the transfer unless the NRC held a full hearing on concerns over Holtec’s ability to safely decommission the nuclear plant, the company’s financial stability and its alleged involvement in a kickback scheme. No hearing was held before the NRC approved the transfer.
The NRC declined to comment on Healey’s lawsuit when it was filed, but the agency refuted some of Healey’s arguments when it issued its order approving the license transfer.
$193 Million Minimum Balance
“When we announced our acquisition of the facility, I had stated that we looked forward to engaging state and local government officials in Massachusetts on site restoration standards and effective coordination during the decommissioning process, by finalizing this agreement it shows that we were true to our word and fulfilled our commitment,” Kris Singh, president and CEO of Holtec International, said. “The path to returning the site to a decontaminated state, which allows us to spawn new economic activity on the property that is beneficial to both the community and our company, has been made clearer in this agreement.”
Addressing one of Healey’s chief issues with Holtec — whether the company has the finances to promptly and safely dismantle the nuclear power plant, clean up contamination, restore the site and manage the spent nuclear fuel that will remain onsite — the parties agreed that Holtec will be required to keep at least $193 million in funds on hand until it completes most of the cleanup and site restoration work, and then must keep $38.4 million available at all times until the spent nuclear fuel is removed.
“The $193 million will ensure funds are available to cover future cost increases and unforeseen contingencies such as project delays and newly discovered contamination, and the $38.4 million will ensure that funds are available to cover the costs to transport the spent nuclear fuel out of state and clean up the land where the spent nuclear fuel will be stored,” the attorney general’s office said. “Holtec is also required to obtain $30 million in pollution liability insurance and secure performance bonds for certain contracts.”
The agreement requires Holtec to submit to the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health an initial site assessment to determine what types of contamination are at the property and where the contamination may be located. It also establishes specific guidelines for the removal and decontamination of structures, including radiologically contaminated structures, at the former power plant site. The agreement also includes provisions securing future funding for DPH to continue monitoring air and food sources outside of the former plant’s boundaries for any offsite radiological contamination.
The settlement also addresses the NRC’s November approval of a request to exempt Pilgrim from certain emergency planning and preparedness requirements. As a result, the NRC said, there is no longer a 10-mile emergency planning zone as called for in Pilgrim’s license.
Healey’s office said the agreement announced Wednesday includes “specific emergency preparedness requirements to protect the public in the event of a radiological emergency at the site” and stipulates that the Massachusetts Emergency Managment Agency will receive funding to perform its emergency preparedness functions each year until the risk decreases.
“Without the agreement, most of the existing emergency preparedness requirements and related funding for MEMA would have been eliminated because the NRC decided … to exempt the plant from federal emergency planning requirements,” the attorney general’s office said.
In his fiscal year 2021 budget filed in January, Baker proposed allowing DPH to assess operators of nuclear reactors in the process of being decommissioned â€” such as Holtec â€” for the costs of radiation monitoring and emergency planning associated with the project.
Holtec estimates it can complete decommissioning work by the end of 2027 and is in the process of removing all spent nuclear fuel from the plant’s spent fuel pool and placing it on a newly constructed Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation by early 2022.