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Oyster Creek decision shows focus is on cooling systems

"No law allows a key regulatory assumption to be based on a sales pitch by a randomly selected self-interested vendor."

The environmental agencies of both states have rejected the use of wedge wire screens as ineffective.

"We didn't really consider wedge wire," said Susan Rosenwinkel, the project manager and principal environmental engineer for New Jersey's DEP. "Our position is in order for the science to work wedge wire needs a freshwater environment, and a draw of less than 100 million gallons per day, and the intake velocity rate must be less than 0.5 feet per second. The velocity of water coming into the nuclear plants is about 1 foot per second and they use 2 billion gallons of water a day."

The Need to Chill

Cooling systems are vital to power generation, particularly those of nuclear plants. In a nuclear plant operation there are a series of three heat exchanging loops of water. The first is water superheated to more than 700 degrees Fahrenheit within the reactor and cycled through thin metal tubes in a steam generator and then back into the reactor.

The second contains relatively uncontaminated water which flows over the metal tubes containing the reactor water and, through this contact, is heated to about 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It is kept liquid under pressure and then flows through pipes towards the giant turbines There, the pressurized hot water is released, and flashes to steam which blows over the 40-ton turbine blades and turns it. The turbine runs the generator which makes electricity.

IPThermalPlume121010_optAfter the steam passes the turbine, it flows over pipes containing cold water from the river, and that contact causes the steam to condense back to a liquid. It can then be pumped back to the steam generator to repeat the process. The water in the third loop which was used to cool the steam, however, was sucked from the river and is then dumped back into the river — but 30 degrees hotter than before. This thermal pollution forms a barrier which alters the aquatic balance, changes the habitat for fish, plants, and parasites, and causes fatal heat shock in billions of passing fish.

The heat dumped into the waterway is tremendous, particularly at nuclear sites. The thermal discharge at PSEG's, coal powered, Mercer Generating Station in Hamilton, for example, dumps about 1.5 billion BTUs of heat into the waterway, according to company records. The nuclear power plants at Salem, however, dump about 30 billion BTUS of heat hourly into waterway. That is the equivalent of the heat which would be generated by exploding a nuclear bomb, the size of the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima, in the waters of Delware River/Bay every two hours, all day, every day.

It is for that reason that the states have required plants to go to closed cycle cooling systems.

Wittenbergnancy121010_opt"We don't mandate a particular technology," said Nancy Wittenberg, assistant commissioner for New Jersey's climate and environmental management programs. "We just mandate a measure of production. Hope Creek nuclear plant has a cooling tower, while the two Salem nuclear plants do not.

"Whether they build a cooling tower or use another closed cycle system is their decision, as long as it meets our objectives.

There are a variety of systems, ranging from mechanical draft — which resembles a three story radiator and is used at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant — to the massive cooling towers used at the Hope Creek plants. New York's DEP specifically recommends the mechanical draft type of system to retrofit on existing plants. Entergy's public contention that the DEC is ordering the installation of cooling towers at Indian Point is false.

Chuck Nieder, a biologist and head of the DEC Steam Electric Unit and author of the state's assessment, noted that while cooling towers are the most effective and would eliminate 98% to 100% of the fish mortality, the mechanical draft systems may be more cost effective for existing plants and would still reduce the mortality to an acceptable 95 percent level and are successfully used at the Nine Mile Point nuclear station.

In addition Nieder said an analysis of fiscal data provided by Entergy showed that cooling towers — the most expensive option — would cost $1.5 billion to construct and operate over the 20 year life cycle, but that amounts to only 5.9% of Entergy's projected profit of $24.5 billion and is not unreasonable.

Riverkeeper attorney Reed Super said "cooling towers are more expensive than the mechanical draft6 and take a lot more land. If they were mandated state wide they would reduce fish kills by 100 percent, whereas the mechanical draft would eliminate only 95%

"There comes a point of diminishing returns, where you are spending a lot of money for that last 5%. The DEC is right to recommend that for brand new facilities, but just as correct to recommend mechanical draft for retrofitting existing ones."

In New Jersey, the DEP analysis found that The Salem nuclear plants are killing more than 3 billion fish annually. For the past 20 years, the company has developed and maintained an extensive wetlands restoration site designed to foster spawning of and safe development of Barnegat Bay aquatic life. But that program has been deemed ineffective by the state DEP and challenged on other grounds by the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

nogakiJane121010_opt"The wetlands were taken over by invasive phragmites," said Federation vice chair Jane Nogaki. "Restoring wetlands, while admirable, will not bring back the annual loss of fish that occurs year after year. We don't think you can take three billion fish a year out of the system and not have an impact on the health of the estuary.

"And in the process of restoring wetlands, PSEG has introduced over 22,000 pounds of the herbicide glyphosate into the estuary in an attempt to control the phragmites. They have been performing annual herbicide applications in Lower Alloways Creek wetlands for 15 years, and that is certainly not a sustainable effort."

Dueling Federal Agencies

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is at odds with both state agencies. Their environmental assessment of Essential Fish Habitat for the Indian Point, Oyster Creek, and Salem nuclear plants found that the impacts were "moderate" and there were no environmental impediments to continuing the once-through operations for another 20 years. According to the agency, the difference between their assessment and that of the environmental agencies or National Marine Fisheries Service is that they are not really evaluating the same systems and impacts.

"When you talk about essential fish habitat we are not really talking about the animals," said NRC biologist Dennis Logan. "You are talking about the habitat the fish live in. It is a separate and distinct question from looking at the fish populations themselves. Some species are adversely affected and some are not affected at all.

"Essential fish habitat looks at the changes in the habitat. The fish stock that goes through, that came in as fish and died or were removed from the system by going through the power plant and are no longer available as food or recreation are another matter. It is not a direct impact on the habitat."

And Drew Stuyvenberg, the NRC's environmental project manager and coordinator of assessments in the division of license renewal, said "a lot of those fish are anchovies, and there are a lot of anchovies in the Hudson River and they produce a lot of eggs. The standard we look at is whether the impacts are so great that the power plant could not remain operating as a choice for decision makers. The test is, are those impacts outside the impacts of other alternatives to licensing?"

But Colosi of the National Marine Fisheries Service was critical of the NRC's approach which, he said, looked at a "variety of predominantly physical impacts that the NRC dismisses based upon prior experience at other nuclear plants."

He contended that Stuyvenberg's assessment that altered current patterns around the massive intake and discharge pipes "have not been found to be a problem at operating nuclear power plants" is wrong.

"Given the large volumes of water consumed at Indian Point each day and the relatively narrow configuration of the Hudson River, it seems plausible that under full operation, the plant could induce noticeable changes in the current regime or induce changes in the local erosion and accretion rates that have unintended adverse effects such as losses of submerged aquatic vegetation, chronic disturbances that discourage settlement of tiny pretty items, and similar effects.

"Our regulations compel us to assume the worst case scenario, that the effluent is creating a barrier to migrating fishes and other unacceptable environmental conditions."


Below are the New Jersey power plants using once through cooling in their generating systems.

1. PSEG - Salem Nuclear Generating Station

Lower Alloways Creek, Salem County

Power source: Nuclear

Power Generated: 2200 Megawatts (MW)

Water Intake: 3 Billion gallons per day

2. Exelon - Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station

Forked River, Ocean County

Power source: Nuclear

Power Generated: 670 MW

Water Intake: 1.5 Billion gallons per day

3. PSEG - Hudson Generating Station

Jersey City, Hudson County

Power source: Coal

Power Generated: 1,112 MW

Water Intake: 892 Million gallons per day

4. PSEG - Mercer Generating Station

Hamilton, NJ

Power Source: Coal

Power Generated: 620 MW

Water Intake: 680 Million gallons per day

5. RC Cape May Holdings - BL England Generating Station

Beesleys Point, Cape May County

Power Source: Coal and oil

Power Generated: 450 MW

Water Intake: 276 Million gallons per day

6. Conectiv - Deepwater Generating Station

Pennsville, Salem County

Power Source: Coal

Power Generated: 167 MW

Water Intake: 286 Million gallons per day

7. PSEG - Sewaren Generating Station

Woodbridge, Middlesex County

Power Source: Natural Gas and Oil as a backup

Power Generated: 582 MW

Water Intake: 540 million gallons per day

(Sewaren is a supplement plant, or "peaking" plant used in times of high demand. It is online about 10% of the year.)

Source: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Roger Witherspoon writes Energy Matters at

Comments (14)
14 Wednesday, 22 December 2010 06:36
You do not need to write an article "advocating an end to nuclear power" to be anti-nuclear. Your stance is evident in the content of the articles that you do write. But you go ahead and keep thinking that your reporting is unbiased.

The cooling towers that Vermont Yankee are sized perfectly for a plant a bit more than half the size of one of the Indian Point units. Entergy is not claiming that it is being required to build a "bulbous" cooling tower. Only that the ones required at Indian Point would be much larger than those built at Vermont Yankee.
13 Sunday, 19 December 2010 23:12
Concerned citizen
The statement "... the EPA sought to allow polluters such as the Salem Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey's Barnegat Bay..." is factually incorrect. Salem is not on Barnegat Bay. This base-level inaccuracy casts doubt on the veracity of reporting for this article.
12 Sunday, 19 December 2010 01:11
Roger Witherspoon
Contrary to your assertion, I have made no claims. I reported on the decisions of state and federal agencies. If you disagree with their assessment, your argument is with them, not me.
Cost Benefit Analysis does not eliminate decisions on closed cycle cooling -- if it is used. In this case, NY DEC used it and concluded the cost was reasonable. If you disagree, argue with them. Ditto your assertions that once through cooling systems have minimal impact on the Hudson River. Convince the state DEC and the NMFS to reverse their decisions and I'll glad write about it.
Null-hype's assertion that there is no difference between the 117-foot, bulbous cooling tower Entergy says it is being forced to make, and the 4-story system used at Vermont Yankee is an argument he'll have to make with the DEC, which clearly wrote the distinction in their order. You get them to change it, I'll report it.
You will not find a story with my byline advocating the end of nuclear power. But feel free to think what you please -- no matter how wrong.
11 Friday, 17 December 2010 14:08
Tom Kauffman
This one-sided piece is rife with exaggerations, inaccuracies and omissions.

For example, Mr. Witherspoon fails to mention that in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court gave EPA the authority to consider cost-benefit analysis, eliminating the need for a one-size-fits-all cooling tower mandate.

He also fails to mention a one-size-fits-all mandate would be a very expensive proposition. The Electric Power Research Institute determined that retrofitting 404 fossil plants and 60 reactors with cooling towers would cost at least $64 billion. And who will pick up the tab - ratepayers.

His claim that heat from power plants "causes fatal heat shock in billions of passing fish," is false. Power plant discharge water temperatures are continuously monitored and must be within federal and state limits to prevent thermal impact on fish and other aquatic organisms. Operators can face fines and forced shutdowns if they fail to stay within limits.

And what about other contributing factors that can impact fish such as nutrient overload, invasive species, chemical pollutants, commercial and recreational fishing, seasonal high water flow, silt buildup, etc. Why were they excluded?

Cooling towers actually consume twice as much water as once-through cooling systems, which is a major concern for confined water bodies such as lakes or bays. And cooling towers applied to power plants that use salt water will emit many tons of salt into the local environment that isn't good for plant life (or cars or homes or people) and could violate the federal Clean Air Act and/or state pollution controls.

Once-through cooling systems do impact a small percentage of the fish population, but they do not harm the overall population. Why? Because the relatively small percentage of individuals lost are readily replaced by the remaining population. The process is called natural reproduction.

An extensive study of Hudson River aquatic life found that after 74 years of combined operation Indian Point 2 and 3 have had no detectable impact on fish populations. A study of the Salem Generating Station in New Jersey found that finfish populations are thriving and have increased in the Delaware River. Lake Anna in Virginia was built to support the operation of the North Anna Power Station and has a healthy fishery in spite of increased fishing pressure and shoreline development.

Mandating cooling towers also will reduce overall electricity generation, as companies retire some plants rather than undergo expensive retrofitting. (Oyster Creek for example.) Of course, electricity rates will rise as the supply of electricity declines. (More bad news for the economy and ratepayers.) Carbon dioxide emissions will increase if nuclear plant output is replaced by fossil fuels. Electrical system reliability will decline with reduced and interrupted generation. And jobs, economic activity and tax revenue also will be lost.

And Witherspoon’s reporting lacks balance. It would only be fair to note that nuclear energy is the single largest source (69.3 percent) of electricity generated by low carbon emitting sources in the U.S. Last year, nuclear energy prevented the emission of 647 million metric tons of the gas. It also prevented millions of tons of particulates and other pollutants that have a negative impact on the health of people as well as the environment. National polls confirm a majority of Americans favor using nuclear energy and support new reactors being built.
10 Wednesday, 15 December 2010 08:56
I have already cited a couple of errors, but I can repeat them.

-The article references the pollution of Barnegat Bay by Salem Nuclear Station. That would be a neat trick since Salem Nuclear Station is not located in Barnegat Bay. That would be Oyster Creek.

-The article speaks of the differences between "cooling towers" and "mechanical draft". THEY ARE BOTH COOLING TOWERS. The natural draft is the tall concrete hyperbolic shaped structures that people often attached to people's mental images of nuke plants. Mechanical draft cooling towers are shorter, longer and use fans to aid in the cooling process. Contrary to what is stated in the article, the mechanical draft cooling towers would use MORE land than a natural draft type. The statement "Entergy's contention that NY state is requiring them to install cooling towers is false" is really what is false. Regardless of type... still a cooling tower. Also, the statement that mechanical draft closed loop cooling is being used successfully at Nine Mile Point in upstate NY is also untrue. Nine Mile Point Unit 2 has a natural draft cooling tower. Nine Mile Point Unit 1... No cooling towers of any type. Next door neighbor James A Fitzpatrick Nuclear Station... No cooling towers of any type.

-Your description of how the nuclear plants mentioned work is also not without flaw. Reactor water at Salem/Indian Point is never "superheated" in the reactor. That term is often times used sensationally by the anti-nuke community because it sounds bad (just like saying "relatively uncontaminated” instead of "non-contaminated"). The water on the reactor side of the steam generator is kept under pressure. Contrary to the article the water on the turbine side of the steam generator is not. Steam happens there. That is why the device is called a "steam generator". These are just little things... but facts are facts.

-The statement that nuclear plants dump more heat to a water source relative to other plant types is also false. The heat dump rate is relative to plant, and more specifically turbine efficiency. The same is true for water usage. Water usage at once through plants is relative to plant size... not plant type.

For evidence of your anti-nuclear bias, one only needs to visit your website. This identical article on your website has a different title (Rape of the Rivers: DEP vs. the Power Plants). Can't just throw that word rape around anywhere you like. Also, in this same article on your website is the statement, “There is a cozy relationship between the NRC and the nuclear industry,” said New York Congressman Eliot Engel. “They always belittle very serious difficulties.” Why is it not in the version published above?

All of your articles under your energy section pertaining to nuclear are ALL negative. I could not seem to find the articles about the record setting continuous runs at nuclear plants of 678 days, 703 days, and 711 days. Even the header of your "Energy Matters" page evokes doomsday (nuclear plants on a cloudy day with the "deadly" cooling tower plumes (or is it "cobalt stew") and the nuclear tri-foil symbol lurking behind the mountain.

Your article "Entergy Leaving Gotham Behind" does not fully disclose all of the issues either. Entergy may indeed sell their power to the highest bidder. Shame on them for being a corporation and trying to make a profit. What you fail to mention is that due to transmission infrastructure in the area, all of Indian Point's power ends up in NYC powering what they are claiming it powers. Power plants can not really choose where the power goes. The wires decide that. Just because someone else buys the power does not mean that the power goes anywhere different. Also, you fail to mention that the location of power plants near population hubs provides for voltage regulation which is a key component to grid stability. This can not be provided when power is transmitted over long distances.
9 Wednesday, 15 December 2010 08:53
If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.
8 Wednesday, 15 December 2010 00:58
Roger Witherspoon
Thanks for the update. The list of companies and their capabilities came from NJ DEP. My standard practice is to cite the sources used in my stories and utilize extensive, full quotes so it is clear that nothing is taken out of context.
The answer to Henrietta's query -- "who comes up with the nonsense?" -- is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NY DEC, and the NFMS. Links are provided to the full reports if she would care to read for herself.
If null-hype feels the article is inaccurate, I would appreciate his providing facts and sources to enlighten all of us.
And would you please site specific examples of "anti-nuclear bias" and delineate what the correct facts are.
7 Tuesday, 14 December 2010 15:16
Bill Wolfe
My apologies for multiple posts, but I can't seem to get this to post.

The Oyster Creek ACO by Governor Christie's DEP reversed the prior cooling tower BAT determination in the January 2010 draft NJPDES permit.

This kills cooling towers as BAT in NJ and is a very bad precedent.

Why did Dave Pringle of NJEF praise Gov. Christie for that? In Chrisite's press release, Pringle called the ACO a "regulatory model"!!

It is exactly the opposite - just what the nuclear industry lawyers asked for.
6 Tuesday, 14 December 2010 06:51
I do not care how long Mr Witherspoon has been in journalism. That is no excuse for doing an incomplete and/or poor job. His article is not 100% based on fact, and it must be to maintain credibility. He is anti-nuclear, and therefore, he can not be considered as any kind of expert on this subject. Experts know the facts and convey them without bias. I do give him credit for being more subtle in his anti-nuclear approach compared to others, but he is unable to fully disguise his bias. That being said, he is a bullet with butterfly wings (still dangerous).

A "mechanical draft" system is still a cooling tower. It just uses fans instead of natural draft. After all is said and done one costs more to build (natural), but the other (mechanical) costs more to operate (those fans use electricity). In the end, they will both end up costing the same.
5 Monday, 13 December 2010 20:43
Jim Swenson
Conectiv no longer owns any power plants.
Conectiv's plants were sold to Calpine Corp. this past June.
4 Monday, 13 December 2010 20:11
Merritt Clifton
Roger Witherspoon's 40-odd years of distinguished work on nuclear & conservation issues has consistently withstood considerably better informed scrutiny than the commentary above. Among the several hundred journalists whose full-time beats include energy issues & conservation, Witherspoon is known as one of the old pros to go to for background & perspective.

In this case Witherspoon has identified a problem which long ago was recognized as fundamental to successful conservation of any species: regardless of how many mature adults of the species are killed or spared, the young must survive in sufficient numbers to withstand the perils of life on their way to joining & replacing the reproducing population. If too many young die in infancy, the species will crash, even if mature specimens are completely protected.

If the Indian Point nuclear reactors are killing so many fish that inadequate numbers reach maturity to reproduce, then strictly enforcing catch limits and cleaning up pollution point sources -- while worth doing -- are not nearly enough to bring back the severely depleted fish stocks of the Hudson River estuary and Long Island Sound.

If there is a technological fix to this problem, fixing it would appear to be the relatively simple, obvious solution, not least to protect the huge public investment over the past several decades in cleaning up the Hudson River and Long Island Sound habitat.
3 Monday, 13 December 2010 16:06
Average Joe
New Jersey News Room; Please get a writer that is unbiased and can keep thier facts straight, not bend them to suit their personal adjenda. The news should be neutral.

Thank you.
2 Monday, 13 December 2010 11:33
"causes fatal heat shock in billions of passing fish"

Who comes up with the nonsense in this article? Reading this article I wonder if the writer even passed simple high school biology.

Does this website care to have technically accurate content or just babble to get Henrietta homemaker to think the sky is falling?
1 Monday, 13 December 2010 11:16
The anti-nuclear reporter Roger Witherspoon again can not keep his facts straight. Where is the quality control program for the press. Frequent discharge of garbage journalism can be harmful to the public.

Salem Nuclear Station is not located on Barnegat Bay.

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