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In funding spat, Duxbury cancels disaster training

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / January 26, 2012
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Duxbury officials have canceled all training for a nuclear emergency amid a quarrel over the amount of preparation funding Pilgrim nuclear power plant’s owner Entergy should provide the town.

The town last week notified state emergency officials of its decision to cancel the training because its training funds have run out, according to the Duxbury Nuclear Advisory Committee.

Nuclear power plant operators are required by federal regulations to help fund local nuclear emergency preparations plans in communities located within the 10-mile radius of the emergency planning zone, such as Duxbury.

Nuclear Advisory Committee cochairwoman Rebecca Chin said Entergy last year promised $187,000 in annual funding for five years, but a new administrator reneged on that agreement and offered the town less. In response, the town’s emergency director, Fire Chief Kevin Nord, canceled all the training sessions, she said.

“We’ve been at the bottom of the pile,’’ Chin said, pointing to higher funding by Entergy for other towns near Pilgrim.

Last year Duxbury received approximately $100,000 in training funds, she said, while Marshfield, a town with fewer residents within the emergency zone, received twice as much.

Entergy spokeswoman Carol Wightman said the company is still in discussion with Duxbury officials and would not discuss the details of its funding offers.

“We are continuing those discussions with town officials with the objective that we come to an agreement that is both fair and equitable to the town of Duxbury and us,’’ Wightman said Monday.

Chin’s committee last week sought to pressure Entergy to be more generous by complaining to William Dean, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s top administrator for the northeast region.

Theoretically, the NRC has the power to shut down a plant’s operations if it is not satisfied with emergency planning.

The letter to Dean quoted Pilgrim’s emergency planning manager Tom White as offering two options, the first a grant of $100,000 for overall emergency management expenses, plus $15,000 for training, with the town responsible for any further training costs.

The second option offered the town a grant of $68,500, plus it would pay for “all training costs’’ and a provision for “equipment replacement and reimbursement.’’

Citing increased demands for training that include addressing issues raised by the Japanese nuclear disasters, Chin said training for town employees - police, firefighters, teachers, and the harbormaster department - to prepare them for their roles in an emergency response is both necessary and costly.

The town must also update and maintain communication equipment and is seeking more help for Nord, who is responsible for all the paperwork required by state and federal emergency agencies in addition to his administrative duties as fire chief.

Chin said the state is also demanding the town take on the responsibility of evacuating residents from the Saquish peninsula, officially part of Plymouth but reachable only through Duxbury.

The funding issue has smoldered for years. Historically, Duxbury has received less money than some other towns because, Chin said, it has been more critical of emergency plans and punished by meager funding as a result.

“We keep telling them where the weak spots are,’’ she said.

While many local residents and officials in towns near Pilgrim have contended that emergency plans would prove hopelessly inadequate in the face of a serious nuclear emergency, the NRC has consistently defended them.

“We’re aware of the financing dispute and [are] in communication with state emergency management officials regarding it,’’ NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said by e-mail in response to Duxbury’s cancellation of emergency training.

“We are not aware of any immediate impacts on the plant’s emergency plan.’’

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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