Rising from the banks of the Hudson River in Buchanan, New York, the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant has been providing Manhattan and Westchester County with nearly 30% of their electricity for the past 40 years. Entergy Corporation, who owns and operates the plant, is now seeking a 20 year extension of its federal licenses with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Unfortunately, the aging power plant’s reputation has been severely damaged in recent years by several tritium leaks, a defective siren system, and an emergency evacuation plan that is utterly unrealistic.
To add to the power plant’s plethora of problems, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently ruled that the plant’s obsolete cooling system, which pumps as much as 2.5 billion gallons of heated water into the Hudson River daily, violates the federal Clean Water Act. The Hudson River’s brackish ecosystem is a fragile one and the dumping of improperly cooled water has contributed to the decline of fish species within the river. This detrimental impact has been illustrated by New York State banning American shad fishing entirely due to the species decline. The ineffectively cooled water is known to kill off not only fish themselves, but their larvae and eggs as well. According to the DEC’s Position on Indian Point Relicensing: “The Hudson River would be a far more productive estuarine ecosystem if the heat shock/thermal impacts from Indian Point could be mitigated. Tens of millions of fish are impacted – from behavioral and growth impacts to fatalities.”
Fred Dacimo, the Vice President of Entergy Corporation and a resident of the Village of Buchanan, protests that Entergy plans to take responsible action to reduce the environmental damage their plant is causing the river. He states that “Entergy is prepared to invest $100 million in new technology to protect aquatic life.” At issue, however, is not whether Entergy will change their cooling system – they must, or face the closure of their plant. Their water-quality certificate has already been denied and it is a prerequisite for extending their license. The current debate has shifted to how to optimally reduce the plant’s negative effect on the Hudson’s bionetwork. The DEC has demanded cooling towers be installed but Entergy is protesting this decision.
“Rising 17 stories above the Hudson River and wide as Yankee Stadium, the towers would emit 100 tons of particulate matter annually, in an area that was declared by the federal government as exceeding health standards for particulate matter. For that and other reasons, the Village of Buchanan strongly opposes the towers,” Fred Dacimo says of the DEC’s proposition. He proposes, instead, the installation of Wedgewire screens.
Despite the fact that Wedgewire screens are currently in use in several other facilities on the Hudson, the DEC has blanched at the prospect of their use in the Indian Point plant. According to the DEC Position on Indian Point Relicensing the screens cause “large fish to be “impinged” on screens at the water intake where they are severely stressed and then suffocated. Smaller fish are “entrained” in the water intake – pulled through the operating plant and killed.” The shortnose sturgeon, an endangered species, and the Atlantic sturgeon, a threatened species, are both at risk for impingement and entrainment.
At this point, the future of Indian Point is uncertain. Entergy is prepared to take the issue of the water cooling systems to court, and even to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington if need be. The hasty closing of the plant would create an unparalleled strain on the New York metropolitan area’s power grid. However, if an effective means of protecting both the Hudson River ecosystem and the residents of the areas surrounding Indian Point cannot be decided upon closure is a definite possibility.
Halbfinger, David M., New York Denies Indian Point Water Permit, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/nyregion/04indian.html
DEC Fact Sheet, http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/permits_ej_operations_pdf/IndianPointFS.pdf
Indian Point Owners Challenge Cooling Tower Ruling, http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=7276695
Dacimo, Fred, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/opinion/lweb21nuke.html