A Tale of Two Plants: NRC Grants License Extensions to Pilgrim and Columbia
In the past week, two of Vermont Yankee's sort-of-sister plants were granted 20-year license extensions by the NRC. These plants are Pilgrim Station in Massachusetts and Columbia Generating Station in Washington State.
Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and Columbia Generating Station are all GE boiling water reactors. Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim are close to the same size and age while Columbia is newer and bigger.
- Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station was commissioned in 1972 and is 685 MW,
- Vermont Yankee was commissioned in 1972 and is 620 MW.
- Columbia Nuclear Generating Station was commissioned in 1984 and is 1150 MW.
Opposition: Local opposition to the Pilgrim license renewal was spearheaded by a group called Pilgrim Watch. The opponents put together a "Freeze Pilgrim" referendum, about about "freezing" the relicensing process until all possible upgrades were done.
Before the referendum, Howard Shaffer debated Arnie Gundersen on this issue, as reported in this blog, and described in a local paper. Howard Shaffer's well-organized review of the debate was posted at ANS Nuclear Cafe. Shaffer puts the debate in context.
The "Freeze" Referendum won 3,200 to 2,300. While Shaffer did a great job with the debate, pro-nuclear people were not organized to go door to door, leaflet the town, etc. The opponent group was very organized. Organization pays off.
Licensing: Pilgrim's NRC license was due to expire on June 8. The NRC spent over six years reviewing the license before it was granted last week, the longest time for a renewal review in agency history.
Neil Sheehan, an NRC spokesman, noted that Pilgrim’s application had been submitted on Jan. 27, 2006, and that the 6 1/2 year review period was the longest of any other renewal application in the agency’s history. He said NRC staff devoted approximately 14,600 hours to reviewing the application.
Chairman Jaczko voted against the renewal, saying that there were still issues about the plant in front of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB). Jaczko further suggested that new rules be enacted for granting renewal licenses, preventing them from being granted under these circumstances.. For a good review of the issues and votes, I recommend Brian Wheeler's article in Power Engineering Magazine.
Note: As most readers know, Chairman Jaczko recently resigned from the NRC. But that would be a whole new blog post or three whole new blog posts. Many nuclear bloggers are covering the issue well. See the latest Blog Carnival at Atomic Power Review for good links!
Local Officials React: According to the Associated Press, Governor Deval Patrick called the NRC decision "extremely troubling." Representative Markey didn't like it either (not a surprise there!) The Massachusetts Attorney General's office plans to pursue appeals through the courts "and other appropriate channels."
Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the power produced at the plant, said it is "an extremely important and valuable asset for the long term."....The license renewal was not an easy test, but with the plant's future now defined, the plant will need to continue its substantial effort to improve performance, he said. "We all want Columbia's performance to be elevated to a level admired by plants across the world," Wright said, drawing applause from workers.
Note: I have a video of Columbia Station up on this blog, and it gathered many comments about the relative ranking of the station compared to other BWRs.
Other Posts by Meredith Angwin
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