The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth could be leaking radioactive substances and should be required to perform more extensive testing to monitor the situation, Gov. Deval Patrick said.

The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth could be leaking radioactive substances and should be required to perform more extensive testing to monitor the situation, Gov. Deval Patrick said.


In a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Patrick also calls for a stay on further consideration of relicensing the plant or approving a proposed spin-off of the plant by its owner, Entergy Corp.


Patrick is the most recent New England governor to ask the federal commission to take action against a local plant.


Buried piping at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant – also owned by Entergy Corp. – has been leaking radioactive tritium that state health officials said Wednesday has reached the Connecticut River. Governors in Vermont and New Hampshire have called for an investigation by the NRC.


But the difference between the Yankee and Pilgrim plants is that officials at the Vermont facility agree there’s a leak. Their monitoring wells detected tritium levels that exceed federal standards for drinking water.


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David Tarantino, spokesman for Pilgrim, said there’s “no indication of leaks” at the Plymouth plant.


While Patrick doesn’t say the plant is leaking radioactive substances, his letter, dated Tuesday, states he is “aware that there have been tritium leaks at a number of other nuclear plants in the country and that, in light of similarities in design, the Pilgrim plant ... could have similar problems.”


Tarantino criticized Patrick’s stance as “kind of a leap.”


But people who live and work in the shadow of the plant say they believe Patrick is on the right track.


“The pipes up there are antiquated,” said Duxbury Fire Chief Kevin Nord, who’s also the town’s emergency management director. “We spend a lot of energy monitoring petroleum products in the ground and here have nuclear material that’s leaking into groundwater.”


Nord is joined in his suspicions that radioactive leakage is a problem by the board of selectmen and town meeting members, who recently backed a resolution calling for more monitoring wells at better locations and public reporting of test results.


Locals believe the plant has the potential to contaminate the bay and endanger the local fishing industry.


Tarantino said the plant has six monitoring wells and is planning to install six more this spring.


“We are under no regulatory requirement to even test for tritium,” he said.


Mary Lampert, who runs the local watchdog group Pilgrim Watch, has been arguing that the existing wells are too few in number and placed in areas where they are useless.


“The point is, to date, they have not come up with high numbers, but if you don’t have the capability to look, what does that tell you? It doesn’t tell us anything,” she said. “And we deserve to know because the reactors are aging.”


Patrick’s letter calls for “extensive testing” at Pilgrim, especially of its impact on local drinking water, but doesn’t specify further.


Nord, Lampert and Tarantino said the state health department should be conducting its own independent tests of the well samples at Pilgrim, which it did from 2007 to 2009 until the lab work became a victim of state budget cuts.


The split samples, Nord said, provided a key system of “checks and balances.”


When asked if Patrick’s letter meant state testing would be restored, a health department spokeswoman issued a statement saying, “The state's radiation control program has had to be cut along with countless others across state government during this unprecedented economic crisis. However the safety of the public remains our top priority, we will continue to function at a high level and take necessary steps to protect the public.”


The spokeswoman, Jennifer Manley, did not respond when asked to clarify the future of state lab testing.


Lampert said it shouldn’t be a state budget problem, anyway, arguing that Entergy Corp. should pay for the tests.


Plymouth officials did not return calls for comment or could not be reached.


Nancy Reardon may be reached at nreardon@ledger.com.