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New England nuke plant closes after 46 years

by Michael Steinberg Saturday, Jun. 29, 2019 at 10:44 PM

After 46 years the Pilgrim nuclear plant on Cape Cod in Massachusetts shut down at the end of May.

Nuclear Shutdown News June 2019

Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press

Nuclear Shutdown News chronicles the decline and fall of the nuclear industry in the US and beyond, and highlights the efforts of those working to create a nuclear free world.

Massachusetts Nuke Plant Goes Down and Out

At the end of May the 46 year old Pilgrim nuclear plant on Cape Cod in Massachusetts joined the growing list of outdated financial losers whose time has passed across the nation.

Located in Plymouth on Cape Cod Bay, only 50 miles from Boston, Pilgrim's boiling water reactor has the same design as the three Fukushima reactors that melted down in Japan in 2011.

It's original owner, Boston Edison, took three years to build this plant at a cost of 1 million. It began operating in 1972.

The utility soon proposed to construct two more reactors on the site, which would have made it the largest nuclear plant in the nation.

But the Plymouth County Nuclear Information Center-PICNIC-sprung up to oppose adding any more reactors. The organization enlisted the support of Ralph Nader, eventually forcing Boston Edison to cancel plans for the second reactor in 1975, and the fourth in 1981.

Mechanical and management problems began to plague Pilgrim by the late '70s, calling into question whether it was operating safely, and resulting in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission slapping the utility with a 0,000 fine. The agency said the plant was "one of the worst in the country."

Repeated shutdowns in the '80s required Boston Edison to spend hundreds of million of dollars to supposedly fix and make it safer. Restart was opposed by MA Governor Michael Dukakis and Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, as well as no nukes groups.

But the NRC allowed Plymouth to restart at the end of '88, even though litigation opposing restart was still pending.

A subsequent state study found abnormally high rates of leukemia near the plant.

In 1999 New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation bought the Pilgrim plant for the fire sale price of million.

Safety and mechanical problems continued in the new century, as did anti-nuke efforts to close the plant down. Nevertheless, in 2006 Entergy applied to the NRC to extend Pilgrim's operating license for another 20 years. US nuclear plants are designed to last 20 years, so their original operating licenses are for 40 years.

A six year battle ensued by no nukes groups opposing Pilgrim's re-licensing, but in 2012 the NRC green-lighted Entergy's request.

In 2015 the NRC rated Plymouth one of the three worst nuke plants in the country, and one step away from mandatory shutdown.

That same year Entergy announced that Plymouth would cease operations by the end of June 2019, due to its failure to turn a profit.

But the NRC still had the nerve to state the plant "will shut down in the highest safety category."

With Pilgrim gone, only two nuclear plants remain running in New England: Millstone on Long Island Sound in my former home of southeast Connecticut, and Seabrook on the coast of New Hampshire.

It's worth noting that Pilgrim opponent Ted Kennedy died of brain cancer in 2009 after serving almost 47 years in the US Senate. The Kennedy compound in Hyannis on the Cape is within 50 miles of the Pilgrim plant.

The Radiation and Public Health Project has produced studies indicating that populations within 50 miles of nuclear plants develop cancer mortality rates higher than normal as the plants continue to release radioactivity into the environment. The RPHP also conducted a study showing that, after a nuclear plant in California shut down, the cancer death rate began to decline.

Sources: WBUR,; Wikipedia, Radiation and Public Health Project,

Michael Steinberg is a veteran activist and writer. The author of Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in southeastern Connecticut,, he is currently based in San Francisco.

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