In fairness to Entergy, given the over whelming inventory of previously identified safety and security shortcomings [of the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Plymouth], there may not be enough nuclear workers in the whole country to fix them all. Or perhaps Pilgrim has plenty of workers, but Entergy hasn’t the interest in pouring more money into a lame duck reactor.”

— David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, as reported by the Cape Cod Times, Oct. 10.)

What more needs to be said?

Those startling words by a nuclear safety expert with impeccable credentials are in response to the most recent revelations in a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report detailing how the Pilgrim nuclear station in nearby Plymouth, owned by Louisiana based Entergy, has not moved to remediate 23 areas of identified shortcomings in its cyber security area. With much due respect to Lochbaum, the issue isn’t so much “fairness to Entergy”, as he says, but fairness to the five million people living within 50 miles of the station, including all of us trapped here on our Island if there is a radiological release carried here by the whims of the winds.

If all that has happened recently in the cyber security area not only with regard to our 2016 election, but all the hacking into corporate and government cyber systems, does not raise great alarm with regard to the mayhem and catastrophe that could be caused by a successful hack into the control systems of a nuclear power station, then we are, once again, mightily asleep at the switch.

One would think that this most recent condemnation by Lochbaum, in a long history of categorical condemnations of Entergy’s Pilgrim nuclear plant, surrounded as it is by almost five million people including our small Island, would generate a tidal wave, a surge, of sufficient opposition to close it down immediately rather than, supposedly, in mid-2019. One would be wrong.

The opposition is there and has been for a long time. It comes from elected officials on and off the Cape and Islands (except from Governor Baker who remains silent on the issue), from community watchdog citizen groups, and nuclear safety experts such as Lochbaum. But as with so many other areas of concern in our country at the moment, our political system, and its attendant bureaucracy, seem immune to public pressure.

That bureaucracy, in this case, is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal agency that licenses nuclear power stations, and is charged with protecting public health and safety. It has spent decades, with the help of congressmen, senators, and governors, successfully immunizing itself against public pressure, which includes court action. There is virtually no instance of public pressure, no matter how intense, no matter how egregious the mechanical or administrative problems, or how vulnerable a given plant might be to natural hazards or terrorist attack of an effective response by the NRC. That is a powerful assertion, but the NRC’s record bears it out.

One may reasonably ask how it can be that Entergy can accumulate such a long horrific record of regulatory violations, administrative sloppiness, and shoddy maintenance — in this case at Pilgrim but at other old nuclear stations it owns as well — that would now require a nonexistent army of repair workers to correct. The answer, as Lochbaum points out, is: money. Consider this analogy: How much money would you be willing to spend on a 45-year-old car to keep it running reliably and safely that you used everyday to transport yourself, your children, or grandchildren to wherever you all needed to go?

Perhaps you would of necessity be willing, if you had the means, to spend a lot all the time, and cope with unexpected breakdowns of some duration while scarce parts were found, or you had to replace a retired knowledgeable mechanic who knew how fix your antique. But you and I are not corporations maximizing the bottom line.

Entergy has a money-making antique, it has the financial means to keep it operating safely, but it is quite clear there is no corporate intention of spending very much to do so. Moreover, the NRC isn’t going to require expensive, if necessary, repairs. The excuse is the putative shutdown of Pilgrim by the end of May 2019. The excuse is that there isn’t enough time to remedy what needs to be done in the time Pilgrim has left. Here the analogy of relying on an old car largely breaks down since many of us have reached the point with an old car of deciding that the cost of keeping our antique running dependably and safely is no longer reasonable. So we trade it in, sell it, or junk it. Run it into the ground? Not a responsible option, but certainly possible.

What is Entergy going to do? From the looks of it at the moment based on a decommissioning seminar I attended at Cape Cod Community College last week, with the acquiescence of the NRC, it will run Pilgrim into the ground, avoid as much of the decommissioning costs as possible, and walk away. Unless, of course, some decisions at the state and federal level postpone the shutdown date to as late as 2032. Stay tuned. There’s more to be said.

Richard Knabel lives in West Tisbury.