Startling revelations by The Associated Press and published here in the Times — that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, supposedly the public's watchdog, has worked hand-in-glove with the nuclear energy industry to weaken safety rules and keep aging power plants on line — are especially troubling to those of us who live east of one of the oldest nuclear power plants in the world.
A group of legislators toured the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth last month. As we walked through, I remembered the early promise of nuclear power: A world in which electricity would be so cheap and plentiful that meters would be obsolete. And with this bounty would come a profound freedom, a near-infinite source of power that would allow all forms of business growth and personal exploration.
That set me to thinking about the irony of the Pilgrim name, because of course the Pilgrims came to the New World in search of just these dreams; freedom to define and redefine themselves, to take advantage of an environment that promised no limits on exploration and growth. After a brutal first winter in Provincetown, they plied the coast to a more inviting harbor in Plymouth to practice what they preached, sailing past the outcrop where the plant now sits.
As we toured the facility, I found dedicated people clearly doing their best. But just as clearly, Pilgrim is not immune from serious problems found at sister plants (also with ironic names) like Indian Point outside New York City, or Oyster Creek near Philadelphia. Pilgrim is 40 years old, has operated much longer than expected, and its owner Entergy hopes to win long-term relicensing despite the following facts:
All that said, let's be honest about other Pilgrim realities:
Are these realities legitimate reasons for wanting to keep the plant up and running? Absolutely.
Do they trump safety concerns? Absolutely not.
So let's back away from easy positions and platitudes about Pilgrim. Instead, we should initiate a dialogue about the plant's future that acknowledges three things:
First, the goal should be to decommission as soon as feasible.
Second, an economic redevelopment plan should be created that preserves jobs and tax base.
Third, conservation, efficiency, renovation, and decentralized, alternative energy production must be our way up and out.
How could the site transform? How can we retool and redefine our future? How do we find a way to keep those fuel rods safe and that radioactivity contained (for a very long time)?
With everyone at the table — community and political leaders, Entergy, smart-growth business thinkers, anti-nuclear activists — we can find an original path that would do more than serve our communities today. We would define a sustainable future, a vision of both collaboration and independence that would have made the Pilgrims proud.
Yes, these are daunting challenges, but they beg famous questions: "If not now, when? And if not us, who?"
Dan Wolf, a Democrat, represents the Cape and Islands in the Massachusetts Senate.