The Department of Environmental Conservation has taken a major and historic step toward ending the rape of the Hudson River by Indian Point. For the last 30 years Units 2 and 3 have decimated the ecosystem as they used enormous amounts of Hudson River water as a free resource to cool the reactors, and as a dump for waste heat and radioactive materials.
A review of the documentation submitted by Entergy and the analysis prepared by the state reveals that the multinational corporation deliberately employed obsolete data, misleading algorithms, false assertions, unsupported conclusions and tortured logic to justify a system that kills more than 2 billion fish per year. The state has invited Entergy to resubmit their application if they would use appropriate data and accurate models to make their case. This time Entergy will have 30 days instead of the 30 years it has taken to get to this point.
The 23 page document that was sent to Entergy Corporation by the DEC on April 2 is scrupulous in its scientific methodology, painstaking in the legal precedents it cites and firm in its determination to uphold the Clean Water Act that protects us all. A careful reading of the document makes clear that the material Entergy submitted in an effort to avoid the expense of closed cycle cooling was both dated and deceptive. For example, raw thermal data was collected in the river from September through November 2009.
This was in contravention of the Department’s request for data during the critical summer months. This means that the model submitted by the company to predict thermal discharge characteristics from Indian Point Energy Center was taken well past the typical high temperature season of July and August and did not meet minimal thermal standards and criteria.
Entergy maintained in its submissions that the Water Quality Certificate should be issued because it was in compliance with a long extended 1987 SPDES (State Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permit. Entergy submitted an engineering study on February 12, 2010 that concluded that a closed cycle cooling system was feasible but not reasonable and as an alternative provided their evaluation of an intake system called a “wedge wire screen” that could potentially reduce but not minimize fish kill at the facility.
The company proposed that this alternative be considered Best Technology Available as called for in the Clean Water Act. Entergy also indicated that since the Water Quality Permit was reissued in 1982 the department should simply do so again.
The Department concluded that continued operation of Units 2 and 3 under the 1987 SPDES permit does not comply with existing legal requirements. In 2003 the DEC issued a draft SPDES permit that required Entergy to evaluate conversion to closed cycle cooling as the Best Technology Available as is required by law. The report notes that more than 30 years ago the NRC evaluated and selected closed cycle cooling as the only appropriate technology for reducing adverse environmental impact from Indian Point. The DEC pointed out to Entergy in a 2009 letter that the agency is not required to process Entergy’s request in the same way it did in 1982, especially since that Certificate did not deal with how the plant complied with State water quality standards of the time. While Entergy maintains that radiological assessments of ongoing leaks to the Hudson River have not indicated any environmental or health risks, the Department views radiological materials as “deleterious substances” that could impair the water for its best usage.
The Department carefully reviewed Entergy’s proposal to use wedge wire screens to reduce impact on the fish population. The conclusion was that this proposed alternative to closed cycle cooling is not Best Technology Available because it is experimental in nature and has never been used on a body of water similar to the Hudson River. Further, DEC determined that it would reduce, not minimize fish kill. This point is especially important because the native Long Nose and Atlantic sturgeon which both use the estuary as a breeding ground are endangered. Sampling from 1975 to 1990 indicated that numbers of both fish were impinged in the intake pipe for Units 2 and 3. This “taking” of endangered species is prohibited by law. The wedge wire approach also does not address the issue of thermal pollution. Accordingly, based on information submitted by Entergy, the Department concluded that while conversion to a closed cycle cooling system was expensive and might require a lengthy construction period, this type of system is available, feasible and the Best Technology Available. Therefore it is required in order to meet state water quality standards.
Based on its thorough review, the Department has concluded that Entergy has not demonstrated compliance with the Clean Water Act and denial of their request for a Water Quality Permit is warranted.
It is important to note that approximately one third of the nuclear power plants in the United States already have closed cycle cooling, including Vermont Yankee, which is owned by Entergy. Most use a radiator type of cooling that is much less expensive than the “cooling tower” approach Entergy puts forward as causing an undue financial burden.
Secondly, Indian Point supplies roughly 15% of the electricity to the grid that serves NYC and Westchester, not the 30% frequently cited. While it is true that Con Ed gets 30% of its electricity from nuclear power plants, not all of it comes from Indian Point. The state has a total of six nuclear plants. There are an additional three in New Jersey that also supply Con Ed and their input is included in the 30% figure. What is at stake here for the industry is more than just the Indian Point Entergy Center. It is a clear statement that power plants across the state will have to stop freeloading at the public’s expense, will have to conform to Clean Water Act standards and will have to include proper disposal of thermal waste as a legitimate business expense. Should the expense of doing business prove too onerous for some nuclear plant operators, undoubtedly the free market will work and other more efficient energy providers will step forward and provide us with an abundance of energy generated in a cleaner and more modern fashion at a profit.
Entergy is selling fear of change as an excuse to evade the law and maximize profits, all at the expense of evading the law and harming the environment.
Press release provided by the Indian Point safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC)
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