Group Wants Oyster Creek's Hot Water Shut Off


(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association April 2004 Newsletter)

The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group was joined yesterday by environmental activists in calling for the state to reject the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant's application for a thermal discharge permit.

The New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit, which must be renewed every five years by the state Department of Environmental Protection, gives the plant the right to take in and expel water into the creek. Douglas O'Malley, the clean water advocate for NJPIRG, said the plant should be prohibited from pumping water back into the creek until the plant improves the technology it uses and lives up to the standards of the federal Clean Water Act.

"Right now, the plant is not doing that," O'Malley said, holding an enlarged photo of a dead fish as he awaited the start of a press conference.

NJPIRG was joined by representatives of Clean Ocean Action, Save Barnegat Bay, American Littoral Society, Sierra Club, Jersey Coast Anglers Association, Ocean Township Committeeman Robert Kraft and local fishermen. Several said that the amount of water intake and discharge -- about 1.2 billion gallons a day endanger marine life.

Kristen Milligan, Clean Ocean Action's staff scientist, said when the water is taken into the plant, marine life is sometimes absorbed as well.

"It's a turtle killer," she said, alleging that endangered turtles have been sucked in despite the presence of screens on the plant's intake pipes.

According to NJPIRG, a chart supplied by AmerGen Energy, the plant owner, as part of its biological assessment from July 2000 found that there were 15 incidents of turtles being captured by the system between June 1992 and July 2000.

Milligan argued that a closed cycle cooling system would recycle the water it uses and cause less damage to marine life.

The process could reduce the flow of water in and out of the plant by 95 percent, Littoral Society member Tony Totah said.

"It's a proven technology," he said. "We know the results of it."

Plant spokeswoman Gina Scala countered that a closed cooling system poses its own problems.

The system would require the use of cooling towers to cool the water, she said, and the mortality rate for organisms that travel through them is 100 percent. She added that when the plant's 1994 discharge permit was issued, it included a study signed off on by the DEP that concluded the current discharge system had minimal impact on the environment.

"There is no long-term effect on organisms in Barnegat Bay," she said. "The studies we've done show we have the best technology."

Thomas P. Fote, legislative chairman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, disagrees. He said that the plant's intake of water was one of the main reasons the fish population in the creek is lower than it was years ago. He added that while the warm water emitted from the plant attracts different types of fish, for young fish the effect can be similar to a moth drawn to flame. "It's very warm there . . . but it kills them," he said.

The last major fish kill at the plant, in September 2002, occurred when the plant's dilution pumps were shut down for maintenance upgrades. The pumps regulate the temperature of water after it has cooled the nuclear reactor and before it is released into the Oyster Creek discharge canal. Water temperatures reached over 100 degrees, killing more than 5,800 fish.

DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell said yesterday the department will consider NJPIRG's request in context of the fish kills in the creek. He added that there are clear federal standards the plant must meet to have its application approved, and that a decision should be made sometime this spring.

Other states have taken similar measures. Last November, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said it will require the two nuclear power plants at Indian Point to install a cooling system if the company that owns them, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, seeks a renewal of its licenses in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

The Oyster Creek plant will close in 2009 unless Exelon applies to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 20-year operating license extension. The plant would need to apply by April or risk being shutdown if the application is pending when the current 40-year license expires


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