By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Protestors from Cape Cod prevailed upon Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday, convincing him to use his office in their effort to shutter a Plymouth nuclear plant.
Following hours of rallying and occupying the governor's lobby, organizer Diane Turco, of Harwich, was brought into Patrick's office for a quick meeting where he asked her to pass along resolutions from Cape towns and said he would send those to the federal agency that regulates nuclear power plants.
After the meeting, Patrick said, "I'm going to write a letter, yes" when asked if he would call on federal regulators to shutter the plant. An aide said he would write his own letter.
"I'd rather we didn't have it. And I've expressed that publicly before," Patrick told reporters on his way to an event Monday afternoon. He also said, "It doesn't matter what I think."
Carrying posters with the nuclear symbol atop a map of Cape Cod Bay or pictured in an open oyster shell, the activists rallied in a State House auditorium, packed the lobby of Patrick's temporary second floor office, and made grim predictions.
>>> For a video report on the rally, go to: http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-03-10nuke/ <<<
"I just want the governor to know whichever way the wind blows, we're all going to be in the body count," said Provincetown resident Marty Hassell.
In May 2012, the 42-year-old Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on the shores of Plymouth received a 20-year license renewal from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a five-member body appointed by the president.
"We would only act to shut down the plant if we identified significant and pervasive problems that could call into question the facility's safety. We have not seen issues of that magnitude at Pilgrim," NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told the News Service in an email.
Sheehan said the plant has received additional oversight because of performance indicators that track unplanned shutdowns and unplanned shutdowns with complications.
In a March 4 letter from NRC Regional Administrator William Dean, the NRC said it would conduct a public meeting to review "station performance."
A lobbyist for Entergy, the plant's owner, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senate President Therese Murray, who has called for the creation of a national nuclear waste storage area, said she wished federal regulators listened to her concerns, while noting the positive aspects of the plant in her district. Without a national nuclear waste area, each plant site holds its spent fuel rods, even after it closes down.
"We can't close Pilgrim because we don't have the authority to do it," Murray said. She said, "Six-hundred-fifty people work at that plant. It produces electricity. Am I concerned about it? Yeah. I fought against Pilgrim, too, and I fought against keeping the rods stored in a pool, and I'm fighting with NRC for 20 years." She said, "I think they should have listened to our concerns before they gave the license."
Sen. Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat, who joined in the earlier rally, said a release of radiation would be a complete catastrophe at the nuclear plant.
"There's a spent fuel-rod pool holding over 3,000 spent fuel-rods that have been sitting there, accumulating more and more rods over the last 40 years. How likely is it? It's not likely. I mean the risk of something happening there is relatively small, but on the other hand the consequences of it happening - if something should happen - are almost unimaginable for this region," Wolf told reporters. He said, "Ultimately it's unacceptable to us that our generational legacy would be to give to the next generation a 60-year-old nuclear power plant with over 5,000 spent fuel rods. That is turning into a nuclear waste dump in our backyards and it's time to do something about it."
The Environmental Protection Agency has oversight of the plant, which is 18 years overdue for a permit, said Wolf, who said the state also has oversight on emergency management and the use of water from the bay to cool the plant. Wolf said there is a "legitimate claim" that the plant should stop cycling water from the bay and start using a "closed cycle."
The EPA was not able to provide additional information when reached for comment.
"We think that if that plant was brought up to modern standards, modern environmental and energy standards, that it might not be cost-effective and the decision might be made to shut it down sooner rather than later," Wolf said.
Cape residents filled the governor's lobby with people, signs and sporadic chanting calling for recognition of what they said were votes by 15 Cape towns asking Patrick to call on the NRC to shut down the plant. As authorities instructed protestors to keep a clear path, members of the group occasionally reminded their colleagues about the pending departure of a bus back to the Cape and made wry comparisons between the jam of people in the lobby and congestion on the bridges over the Cape Cod Canal.
"We believe our lives and safety are at risk every day," said Orleans resident Bruce Taub, as Patrick's deputy chief of staff, Rosemary Powers, arrived to hear their demands. He said, "It's an emergency, madam."
After the crowd dwindled to about a dozen and just before Patrick left for an event at Logan International Airport, Powers brought Turco in for a quick meeting with the governor.
"He's going to call for the NRC to shut down the reactor because the public safety cannot be assured," Turco said. She said, "We got our answer."