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Courtesy of Entergy Photographer
The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth

Federal regulators Monday placed Pilgrim nuclear power plant on a list with 15 other underperforming nuclear reactors in the country.
The decision from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stems from a rapid shutdown – called an unplanned scram -- of Pilgrim last August when pumps feeding water to the nuclear reactor failed because of electrical problems. The move will trigger new inspections of the 685-megawatt nuclear plant by the NRC in the coming months.

“The inspectors will review the company’s root-cause evaluation of the problems that led to the performance indicator change,” said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Another unplanned shutdown of the plant last month is also under scrutiny by the NRC and could downgrade Pilgrim’s performance even further, pushing it into a “degraded” performance category with six other nuclear plants, said Sheehan.

Louisiana-based Entergy Corp., which operates Pilgrim and 10 other nuclear plants in the U.S., said the company is already addressing problems at the plant.

“We have conducted rigorous reviews of the plant shutdowns to identify needed improvements,” said James Sinclair, spokesman for Entergy Corp., which owns the plant. “Changes have been made in some key site leadership positions to accelerate our improvement.”

Pilgrim most recently shut down last month for six days when it lost power from a 345-kilovolt NStar line that provides electricity to the plant.

It was the plant’s fourth shutdown this year. Pilgrim has been offline for 79 days this year, but 46 of those days were for planned maintenance and refueling.

Mathew Muratore, chairman of Plymouth’s Board of Selectmen, reacted to the news Monday, saying that Plymouth selectmen will be meeting next week with Entergy officials.

“It’s concerning obviously, but it’s not a surprise,” said Muratore. “All the proper steps are being taken, and we have to see where it’s going to go from here.”

Muratore said he is more concerned about the storage of spent nuclear fuel at the plant and the possibility that Pilgrim will close down entirely.

“What’s the economic effect from the loss of jobs?” Muratore said. “If they’re losing money and having problems, the future doesn’t look so great any more as it did four to five years ago.”

Darrell Roberts, director of the NRC’s Region I Division of Reactor Projects in King of Prussia, Pa., told the Ledger last September that the recent troubles at Pilgrim have not posed safety risks.

Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and the director of nuclear safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that increased federal scrutiny could uncover more problems.

“When you turn over more rocks, you sometimes find more problems,” said Lochbaum, who is based in Tennessee. “The NRC has to be really convinced you’ve fixed the problems.”