In an unprecedented move, the environmental agencies of New Jersey and New York have begun forcing scores of their largest water users to either retrofit their plants with modern cooling systems which won't kill billions of fish annually or cease operating.
Environmental analysts in the two states have found that these facilities kill more than 20 billion juvenile and mature fish annually in New York and another nine billion in New Jersey. These operations have had a negative impact on a variety of fish, including the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon, which returns to the Hudson River to spawn and sea turtles in the Delaware River which were sucked into the cooling systems at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station.
Even more alarming is the finding by the National Marine Fisheries Service that the "once through cooling systems" are vacuuming up trillions of newly hatched fish — those under a half inches in length — and destroying them in their heat exchangers. The NMFS directly challenged the finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the damage to the aquatic environment is "moderate", and asserted there is "strong evidence" that the decline in fish stocks along the entire northeast Atlantic seaboard is due more to the destruction of baby fish than to over fishing of adults.The scale of the destruction can be seen in the NRC's environmental assessment of the twin Indian Point nuclear plants in Buchanan, New York, 30 miles north of Manhattan in the heart of the Hudson River tidal estuary. In determining that the overall impact on essential fish habitat is "small to moderate" the agency noted approvingly that new screens installed in front of the 40-foot-wide intake pipes in 1984 had reduced the destruction of baby fish between 1984 and 1991 by 187 Billion per year to its present rate of just 300 Billion newly hatched fish.
"The NMFS does not reach all of the same conclusions as the NRC with respect to adverse effects that relicensing IP2 and IP3 would have on the fishery resources and their habitats," Peter Colosi, the agency's assistant northeast regional administrator, wrote in an analysis of the impacts of the Hudson River nuclear plants.
"Given the immense natural productive potential of the Hudson River Estuary," Colosi continued, "and taking consideration the staggering numbers of organisms that are lost directly, indirectly, and cumulatively through continued operation of electric generating stations that continue to use once-through cooling technology in the Mid-Hudson, the NMFS suggests that the current Indian Point relicensing process is an appropriate and opportune time to apply the Clean Water Act."
But the efforts by the two state environmental agencies to enforce the discharge provisions of the Clean Water Act have drawn fierce resistance from companies opposed to spending billions of dollars to change their money-saving practice of freely using public waterways. On Thursday, Exelon Corp, operator of the nations' largest nuclear power fleet, made good on its longstanding threat to close the 636-Megawatt, Oyster Creek nuclear power plant rather than install a closed cycle system. In New York, Entergy Nuclear, which owns the Indian Point plants, has been spending millions of dollars on media campaigns and lobbying against what they claim is a politically motivated "fish vs. jobs" issue. Ironically, the NRC assessment states that five year construction project would provide some 2,300 direct jobs, making it one of the region's largest employment projects.
The drive, by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, involves nine New Jersey plants at seven power company sites and more than 40 New York electric generating plants — including most of the region's nuclear power facilities — and large manufacturers such as cement makers and a 100-year-old Yonkers subsidiary of Dominoes Sugar.
New Jersey's efforts to force compliance involve four plant sites operated by PSEG — ranging from the twin reactors at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station, which use 3 billion gallons of water daily, to the Sewaren natural gas plant using 540 million gallons daily; as well as plants operated by Exelon, RC Cape May Holdings, and Conectiv.
New York has destructive plants throughout the state, but the biggest impacts are created by the gauntlet of power plants along the Long Island Sound and the lower Hudson River which kill fish by the trillions as the migrate up to 200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to spawning sites along the Hudson River.
Because of the economic and political clout these types of firms possess, no other states have moved to force some 550 companies using similar "once through cooling systems" to comply with the dictates of the federal Clean Water Act. Indeed, the most destructive power plant in New York State is the coal and oil Northport Power Station in Suffolk County, along the north shore of Long Island Sound. That plant alone sucks more than 9.5 billion mature fish into its system annually, according to the state's DEC. And though this wholesale vacuuming of migrating fish has a negative impact on the important recreational and commercial fishing operations, County Executive Steve Levy refused several requests to discuss the subject.
Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has continually avoid the issue, though their own analysis concluded that these plants collectively kill more than one trillion fish annually and disrupt their local aquatic ecosystems with their hot water discharges. On Nov. 22, the EPA settled a federal court suit brought by Riverkeeper and agreed to set regulations for the nation's power plants and manufacturers using once through cooling by the end of March, 2011.
"You cannot take the amount of fish, small fry, larvae and eggs that Indian Point does from the estuary without having a major effect on the ecological health of the Hudson River," said Riverkeeper Director Paul Gallay. An analysis of the river's stocks prepared in 2008, he said, "showed nine out of 13 of the most significant species of fish in the Hudson River are in significant decline. That details some of the potential ways Indian Point being contributes to this overwhelming decline in the health and numbers of these species."
Wedge Wire Wars
During the Bush Administration, the EPA sought to allow polluters such as the Salem Nuclear Generating Station on Delaware Bay and the Indian Point Energy Center on the Hudson River to continue killing billions of fish annually as long as they applied "mitigating" measures.
Those provisions were challenged in a federal suit in 2004 by a coalition of states, including New York and New Jersey; and environmental groups, including Hackensack, Hudson River and Delaware Riverkeeper, New York/New Jersey Baykeeper, and Scenic Hudson; and nuclear industry groups including Entergy Corp. and PSEG Nuclear.
But two federal courts — U.S. Circuit Court before then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor in 2004, and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 — held that there was no substitute for complying with the Clean Water Act. The EPA, then headed by Stephen Johnson, declined to come up with new regulations and the Obama EPA — now headed by former NJ DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson — has continually pushed back projected dates for issuing new draft regulations. Officials now say draft rules may be released by the end of the year.
Entergy's current publicity campaign contends that closed cycle cooling systems are unnecessary and the problem with fish kills can be eliminated by installing more tight-mesh wedge wire screens. While that is the company's public position, they have actually gone to court to successfully prove that wedge wire screens are not designed for high-flow systems like nuclear power plants and should never be considered for nuclear plant use.
Entergy contended in a suit against the EPA filed in 2005 in the Second U.S Circuit Court of Appeals that wedge wire screens were designed for systems in still waters with flows of less than 100 million gallons daily — not the two to three billion gallons used daily by nuclear plants. At that time, Entergy argued that the EPA's proposed rule allowing the use of wedge wire "rests in all respects on sales talk...discussions between EPA's contractor and sales representatives from two companies that manufacture these screens.