Safety Concerns at Pilgrim Nuclear Plant

Andrew Hayden
May 29, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Introduction to Pilgrim

Fig. 1: Pilgrim Nuclear Station under construction in 1971. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Plymouth Massachusetts Pilgrim Nuclear Plant, pictured (Fig. 1), is slated to close in 2019. [1] The group that owns the plant, Entergy Corp., is planning to shut it down because the plant is no longer financially viable. [2] Massachusetts-based activist groups, such as Cape Downwinders, are not satisfied with the scheduled closure. [2] They see the plant as a disaster waiting to happen.

Safety Concerns

The plant was cited with a series of safety and procedural violations in 2015 and has been on the Nuclear Regulatory Commissions (NRC) watch list ever since. [2] Over the years, the frequency of scrams, or unplanned reactor shutdowns, suggest to NRC officials that Pilgrim's operators failed to identify equipment failures before restarting reactors. [2] The security team at Pilgrim was caught failing to man required security posts, and fabricating security reports to hide it. [2] A company spokesman at Entergy, Patrick O'Brien, argues that even after the reactor is shut down Entergy will always spend what is required to ensure the safe, secure, and reliable operation of Pilgrim. [2]

However, both Massachusetts U.S. Senators, officials at the NRC, and nuclear insiders like Paul Blanch see Pilgrim's continued operation into 2019 as a serious safety threat. [2] Blanch spent years as a safety expert at nuclear plants. He claims that Entergy has a very poor record of management and its regulatory compliance. [2] Blanch continues, "All of the plants that they operate have the lowest safety ratings of any plants in the entire nuclear fleet." [2]

Fig. 2: Public meeting about Plymouth Nuclear Station in Plymouth, MA. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The NRC uses a column based safety rating; Column 1 being the highest safety rating. [3] Placement in Column 5 calls for an immediate shutdown of the plant due to safety violations. The NRC places Pilgrim in Column 4, leaving it with one of the worst safety ratings in the country. [3] The NRC's findings at the plant highlight "the continuing weaknesses in the implementation of Entergys program for identifying, evaluating and resolving problems at Pilgrim, NRC Region I Administrator Dan Dorman said, explaining the placement of Pilgrim in Column 4. [3]


Regardless of whether Pilgrim is closed early or continues operation until 2019, it will continue to pose a safety threat to Massachusetts residents. Spent fuel rods will remain on the compound. [2] This is true at plants across the country, but Pilgrim's failure to invest in new infrastructure has left its spent fuel pool holding four times the amount of radioactive waste it was designed to contain. [2] For this reason, public outcry in the form of protests and meetings (shown in Fig.2) will continue for the foreseeable future.

© Andrew Hayden. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "NRC to Hold Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Public Exit Meeting for Inspection, Annual Assessment Discussion," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission News, 14 Mar 17.

[2] K. Miles, "Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Due to Close in Two Years But Safety Concerns Linger," Boston Globe, 22 Aug 17.

[3] "NRC to Increase Oversight of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Based on New Inspection Finding," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission News, 2 Sep 15.