4 June 2019

U.S. Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor Closes... 13 Years Before License Expires

WNISR, 4 June 2019

On 31 May 2019, Entergy permanently shut down its 668 MW Pilgrim reactor, which was connected to the grid the first time on 19 July 1972. The 47-year old General Electric MK1 Boiling Water Reactor (BWR), located on Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts, was described by the NRC in 1986 as ’’one of the worst-run’’ nuclear plants in the country. Nearly twenty years later little had apparently changed, with Senator Ed Markey describing the plant has having “one of the worst safety records of any nuclear facility in the country”. The reactor remained embroiled in safety concerns, not least after four emergency shutdowns (SCRAMS) between 2013-15.

Long standing opponents of the plant had challenged Entergy’s application for a 20-year license extension which, though opposed by then NRC Chair Jaczko, was granted by the NRC in 2012 and which permitted the reactor to operate until 2032. Only three years after being granted lifetime extension and faced with mounting costs including safety retrofits which the operator was reluctant to invest in, combined with loss of competitiveness in the electricity market, Entergy announced on 15 October 2015 that Pilgrim was “simply no longer financially viable” and would be closed on 31 May 2019.

On the day of closure, Chief Executive Officer Leo Denault stated: “The difficult but necessary decision to close Pilgrim impacted our dedicated employees and their families, and was a decision we did not make lightly.”

In November 2018, Entergy filed notice with the NRC for the sale of the Pilgrim reactor to Holtec International. Holtec would take ownership after shutdown, justified by the utility on the grounds that Holtec would decommission sooner than if it implemented decommissioning itself.