NJ DEP Fines Oyster Creek Power Plant For Fish Kill

by Tom Fote

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association January 2003 Newsletter)

Since I moved to Toms River in 1978, I have been concerned about the fish kill that results when Oyster Creek has a shut-down or releases hot water.  When I became involved with JCAA one of my first actions was to complain to the NJ Division of Fish and Game and DEP about the fish kills at Oyster Creek.  I always wondered why Oyster Creek would shut down in the winter when it would have the greatest impact on the fish.  Is it coincidence that this is also the time of year when they get the least amount of money per kilowatt?  On September 23 there was another fish kill at Oyster Creek, this one caused by a discharge of hot water.  I made a direct complaint to DEP and the Division of Fish and Wildlife.  I had little expectation that any action would be taken since previous commissioners and governors had done nothing.  I had the same discussion two weeks ago with Marty McHugh, the incoming director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and was asked to be patient.  Imagine my surprise!  The release included below is the first of its kind.  We should all express our appreciation to Commissioner Bradley Campbell for his action in this matter.  We hope it is only the first of many responsible actions that DEP can take to protect our marine resources.  We should also thank Governor McGreevey for his unwavering support on these issues.   


New Jersey Dept. of  Environmental Protection

Press Release

Contact: Amy Cradic (609) 984-1795


Oyster Creek Generating Station Fined for Water Violations and Fish Kill:

DEP Seeks Compensation for Natural Resource Damages


(02/131) TRENTON – New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today announced that AmerGen Energy Company, owner of Oyster Creek Generating Station in Ocean County, was issued a fine in the amount of $190,000 for violating the Water Pollution Control Act. In addition, the state is seeking $182,912 in natural resource damages for the subsequent kill of more than 5,800 fish caused by the illegal plant operations.

“AmerGen’s serious permit violations caused significant damage to the area’s natural resources,” said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. “The fines and damage assessment reflect a major loss of aquatic resources and AmerGens’s apparent disregard for the environmental consequences of their actions.”


The Oyster Creek Generating Station, a nuclear-powered energy plant, uses water from the South Branch of the Forked River to cool its reactor and then discharges the resulting thermal wastewater to a man-made canal that flows into Oyster Creek. The generating station discharges approximately 1.2 billion gallons of cooling and dilution water daily through two independent outfall structures. DEP regulates and sets temperature limits for the discharges to protect the marine life inhabiting the canal and Oyster Creek.

On September 23, 2002, AmerGen’s operators shut down the station’s dilution plant in order to perform scheduled maintenance work on a transformer. Under the facility’s DEP-issued permit, scheduled maintenance work – which may cause violations of thermal limitations – is prohibited during the months of June, July, August, and September.

The generating plant was in full operation when the dilution plant was removed from service, causing a rapid increase of water temperature in the discharge canal. Within an hour of the dilution plant’s shut down, the water temperature rose to 101 degrees Fahrenheit and at least 5,876 fish died from heat shock. AmerGen’s permit requires that when the surrounding water temperature reaches 87 degrees Fahrenheit four feet below the water’s surface, a dilution pump must be activated. A violation occurred when no pumps were available for activation.

AmerGen was also cited by the DEP for failing to provide the department timely notification of the temperature violations and the resulting fish kill. As required under their permit, AmerGen must notify the DEP within the first two hours of becoming aware of a problem. More than five hours passed before the department was alerted. Due to the severity of the combined permit violations, the DEP issued AmerGen a $190,000 penalty.

In addition to the penalty for permit violations, the DEP is seeking a natural resource damage claim in the amount of $182,912 to compensate the public for injuries to its natural resources.

“Oyster Creek represents a high-use recreational fishery,” added Campbell. “New Jersey’s citizens deserve to be compensated for the loss of aquatic life caused by AmerGen’s actions.”

As documented and reported by AmerGen, 24 fish species were affected by the illegal discharge, resulting in the loss of more than 5,800 fish. Nearly three-quarters of the fish collected from the discharge canal and Oyster Creek were striped bass, Atlantic menhaden and white perch. Spot and American eel each comprised approximately five percent of the fish collected, and the remaining 17 fish species and two invertebrate found comprised less than one percent.

The DEP’s natural resource damage assessment is based upon the associated hatchery value of the dead/distressed aquatic species impacted by the thermal discharge. The DEP allocates money from natural resource damage settlements for restoration projects.

Copies of the DEP’s Administrative Order and Notice of Civil Administrative Penalty Assessment and/or the Natural Resource Damage Assessment issued to AmerGen are available upon request.

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