DEC Rules Indian Point Cooling Technologies Will Not Meet NY Water Quality Standards

Indian Point SMI direct.jpg

photo: SMI direct

Obama last week expanded controversial sources of energy such as drilling along the coastlines, but the nuclear power plant near Westchester, NY may be in its final years of operation. On Friday, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation denied Entergy, the owners of Indian Point nuclear power plant, a water quality certificate. The denial of the water permit follows on the heels of New York's utility regulator rejecting Entergy's plan to spin off five of its nuclear power plants into a new company.The DEC report found that the plant's water intake systems and its release of untreated water back into the Hudson River are killing both Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon. Shortnose Sturgeon is endangered, Atlantic Sturgeon is currently up for consideration for the endangered species list. The plant also leaked radioactive material into the groundwater. Indian Point Units 2 and 3 take in huge quantities of water from the Hudson River to cool the reactors. The water is then pumped back into the Hudson, about 25 degrees hotter. Small aquatic organisms are entrained into the plant's machinery via the pumping. Water pressure also causes fish to be impinged against intake screens.

The water was contaminated sufficiently such that the plant was found to be violating the Clean Water Act. DEC's letter stated that Indian Point's cooling systems, "do not and will not comply" with New York's water quality standards. The power plant's once through cooling system needs be converted to a closed-cycle cooling system, or other best available technology to satisfy state water-quality regulations. The decision forces Entergy to either spend millions of dollars building cooling towers or have the reactors shut down. Entergy claimed that converting Indian Point's cooling system could cost up to $1.1 billion. Entergy said on Sunday that it plans to appeal the ruling.

Indian Point supplies 30% of the electricity used by NYC and Westchester County (~2 gigawatts of power for 2 million homes!). The plant is located 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan so safety and terrorists issues have been brought up in the past in addition to environmental concerns. The licenses for the plant's reactors are up for renewal in September 2013 and December 2015. To obtain a 20 year renewal from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission a water quality certificate from the state is needed. The relicensing is opposed by the surrounding community, by NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and by former Governor Eliot Spitzer. Riverkeeper and other environmental organizations have been attempting to close the plant for years.

So what's next showdown in Buchanan, NY? Entergy has 30 days to request a public hearing on the denial of the water quality certification. Entergy had launched its efforts to extend the licenses in late 2006. Entergy has been making the argument that the nuclear plant is essential to the region which depends on it for affordable, dependable power that doesn't emit greenhouse gases. Environmentalists argue that by employing energy efficiency and clean power, like wind power, sufficient energy sources could be brought online to make up for the potential loss of Indian Point's.

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