MA Nuke to Shut Down

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 @ 02:10 PM gHale

Plymouth, MA-based Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which has supplied power to more than a half-million homes and businesses for just over 40 years, will close no later than June 2019, its operators said Tuesday.

The move comes one month after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) designated Pilgrim one of the nation’s three least-safe reactors.

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While environmentalists applauded the move, the question does remain as to how Massachusetts will replace its chief source of energy.

Officials at Entergy Corp., the Louisiana-based energy company that has owned Pilgrim since 1999, said the 43-year-old plant is “simply no longer financially viable.”

“I can personally tell you that this was an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call,” said Bill Mohl, who oversees most of the company’s nuclear power plants.

Mohl said Entergy faced the “harsh reality” that Pilgrim probably will lose about $40 million a year until it closes.

The plummeting price of a competing fuel, natural gas, and the reluctance of federal and regional officials to provide financial incentives for nuclear power plants put further pressure on Entergy to close the plant, Mohl said.

He said the decision also ended up influenced by the state’s effort to secure long-term agreements to procure hydroelectric power from Canada and expand the capacity of pipelines to pump more natural gas to the state.

“Closing the plant on this schedule was not what any of us had hoped for. But we have reluctantly concluded it is the appropriate action,” he said.

Mohl said Pilgrim’s 633 employees will remain on the payroll until the plant closes, which could happen as early as 2017, if Entergy decides next year not to refuel its reactor. Decommissioning it, however, could take decades.

The company estimates it will cost between $45 million and $60 million to comply with the increased inspections required by the regulatory commission. Entergy may have to spend more to address any significant issues that arise from the inspections at Pilgrim, the site of a series of unplanned shutdowns in recent years.

Governor Charlie Baker said the shutdown of Pilgrim “poses a potential energy shortage’’ for Massachusetts and New England. He called for more focus on developing “clean, reliable, affordable’’ energy sources for the state.

Pilgrim supplies an average of about 5 percent of the region’s energy, and the 680-megawatt plant, which powers roughly 600,000 homes and businesses a year, accounts for about 84 percent of the state’s noncarbon emitting energy. The closure of the plant could make it significantly harder to meet the state’s goals of cutting its carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below by 2050.