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Mass. congressmen urge NRC to force upgrades on Entergy's retiring Pilgrim nuke

Massachusetts' congressional delegation wants federalregulators to deny EntergyCorp.'s request to exempt its retiring nuclear power plant inPlymouth, Mass., from further post-Fukushima safety upgrades.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation led by Sens.Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren called on the U.S. Nuclear RegulatoryCommission in a Sept. 21 letter to reject Entergy's recent request to extendthe deadline for installing mandated hardened containment vents at the nuclearpower plant to Dec. 31, 2019. That would be months after the operatorplans to permanentlyshut down Pilgrim's reactor, which it says it wants to do no later than June 1of that same year.

The letter accused Entergy of "unjustifiably exposingMassachusetts communities to danger" by attempting to "abdicate"its "responsibility to minimize the risk of catastrophic accidents,"like the 2011 meltdown and radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclearpower plant in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.

"If vents are not hardened and capable of operating inthe event of a severe accident, they may become damaged, increasing the likelihoodthat containment fails and radioactive material is released into theenvironment," argued the lawmakers. "This is precisely what occurredat Fukushima, where vents became inoperable due to the loss of onsite power."

The lawmakers reminded the federal agency of its ownpreviously stated position that the October 2015 announcement by Entergy that it will retirePilgrim would not relieve Entergy "of the responsibility of running theplant as safely as possible until the end of its life."

The other signatories to the congressional letter includedDemocratic Reps. Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, William Keating, JosephKennedy, III, Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, Seth Moulton, Richard Neal, andNiki Tsongas.

Entergy spokesman Patrick O'Brien responded to the lawmakersin a statement, asserting that safety continues to remain Pilgrim's toppriority. "And none of the requests we have made to the NRC would diminishthat commitment," he said.

O'Brien noted that the plant already has a fully functionalhardened containment vent system that is capable of operating in case of asevere accident. Those upgrades were completed in June 2015 as part of thenuclear industry's post-Fukushima "FLEX" program. According to a2015 estimate by theNuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, the post-Fukushima safetyimprovements under FLEX have already cost the U.S. nuclear industry about $4billion.

"For the remaining enhancements, which require theinstallation of some additional permanent plant instrumentation, Pilgrimproposed to the NRC that reasonable alternatives of existing plant instruments,plus portable equipment, can effectively meet the intent of the instrumentationrequired by the order," O'Brien explained. In , the NRC granted a similarrequest for ExelonCorp.'s OysterCreek nuclear plant, which will also cease operations in 2019, henoted.