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.
After 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.
"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.
"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."
NEW JERSEY'S ONCE THROUGH COOLING SYSTEMS
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
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 www.RogerWitherspoon.com