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Ten state legislators call on Holtec to stop evaporating Pilgrim's radioactive wastewater

Boston resident Djamil Graham holds up an inflated globe as she speaks during the public comment period at Monday's meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel at Plymouth Town Hall.
Jennette Barnes
Boston resident Djamil Graham holds up an inflated globe as she speaks during the public comment period at Monday's meeting of the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel at Plymouth Town Hall.

Ten state legislators, including three Republicans, are calling for a moratorium on evaporation of radioactive water from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station.

In a letter to Holtec Decommissioning International, or HDI, a subsidiary of plant owner Holtec, the legislators said they have “significant concerns” about the effect of evaporating radioactive wastewater “absent of treatment, filters, real-time monitoring, or independent oversight.”

“Evaporating wastewater without oversight endangers our communities and the environment,” they said.

The March 25 letter, addressed to John Moylan, site vice president for HDI, is written on letterhead from Sen. Susan Moran and signed by the entire state delegation from Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Plymouth: Moran, Sen. Julian Cyr, and Reps. Kipp Diggs, Dylan Fernandes, Christopher Flanagan, Kathleen LaNatra, Mathew Muratore, Sarah Peake, David Vieira, and Steven Xiarhos.

The letter calls for Holtec to end the evaporation until the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection “can fully analyze this untested method of wastewater disposal.”

Holtec has previously said that it filters the water and uses periodic monitoring.

At a meeting Monday of the state panel on Pilgrim, panel member David Noyes, compliance manager at HDI, said the technology for “reasonable and reliable” real-time monitoring of tritium, a radionuclide of concern, is probably a decade away.

And in an interview afterward, Noyes said the temperature of the water at Pilgrim — 95 to 105 degrees — is not high enough to volatilize any of the radiological effluents except tritium. The only non-radiological contaminant that could be evaporated at those temperatures is chlorine, he said.

The company is looking for ways to dispose of what was once more than 1 million gallons of water held in the reactor cavity, spent-fuel pool, and other areas of the reactor system. The water contains radioactive elements and non-radiological contamination.

Holtec has proposed discharging the water, after treatment, into Cape Cod Bay. The company has applied for a state permit modification to do so. The state issued a draft denial last year but has not finalized the decision.

In the meantime, the water is evaporating. Noyes said the volume has fallen below 900,000 gallons.

Local activist Diane Turco read the legislators’ letter aloud at last night’s meeting of the Pilgrim panel.

Noyes said after the meeting that he was not ready to respond to the letter. He said the plant has been evaporating water for 50 years.

Also Monday, an official at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection said the agency is not satisfied with Holtec’s response to the agency’s request for data about potential air pollution from Pilgrim.

“Holtec provided a response to Mass DEP on March 6th, 2024, which Mass DEP has determined to be inadequate at this point,” said Seth Pickering, a deputy regional director at the agency.

Holtec’s response to DEP indicated that the only state-regulated air pollutant likely to come from the evaporation is chlorine. The company said another substance detected in the testing, methylene chloride, is a common laboratory contaminant probably not present in the water.

In a letter to DEP, Holtec said those substances were found at levels “many orders of magnitude” lower than what would be subject to DEP permitting regulations.

The company also said it was not including information about radionuclides because radiological emissions fall under the authority of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

During Monday’s meeting, Pickering said Holtec has agreed to conduct further water sampling and allow the state to visit the plant to observe sample collection for hard-to-detect radionuclides.

New testing will also look for pollutants that could have entered the system after the original samples were taken about a year ago, he said. No date has been set for the testing.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.