The owner of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts announced Thursday that it would refuel one more time and operate for three more years before shutting down in May 2019, disappointing a watchdog group that says the plant is unsafe.
New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. announced in October that it would close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth as soon as the spring of 2017 and as late as the spring of 2019, citing "poor market conditions, reduced revenues and increased operational costs."
The decision to close the plant at the back end of that two-year window was made so the only nuclear power plant in Massachusetts could fulfill its contractual obligations to supply the region's power grid, plant spokesman Patrick O'Brien said.
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"We had committed to the market until that date," he said.
The plant, which began generating electricity in 1972 and was relicensed for an additional 20 years in 2012, generates 680 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 600,000 homes.
The decision surprised Mary Lampert of Pilgrim Watch, a plant watchdog group that has long said the plant is unsafe.
"I assume the bean counters at Entergy determined it made more financial sense to stay open longer rather than break supply contracts with ISO-New England," she said. "There is no question we all feel a heightened threat."
Federal inspectors last September downgraded the plant's safety rating to the lowest level and increased oversight.
The plant remains under that increased oversight and has a Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection within a couple months, O'Brien said.
Entergy has long maintained that the plant is safe.
Entergy also touted the continued economic and charitable benefits to the region by staying open longer. Last year's refueling meant a $70 million investment in the plant and money spent on hotels, restaurants and tourism activities.
"In just the past four years, Pilgrim has donated more than $1.5 million to local, regional and statewide nonprofit organizations," said John Dent, Pilgrim's site vice president.
Also Thursday, the union that represents about 225 of the plant's more than 600 workers announced an agreement on a new contract with Entergy that provides wage, benefit, retention and severance provisions for workers.
"It's essential that experienced workers remain onsite to ensure Pilgrim runs safely for the next three years and throughout the decommissioning process, and we're pleased that this contract ensures important protections for our workers, our communities and the region," said Craig Pinkham, president of Local 369 of the Utility Workers Union of America.