By Christine Legere; May 19. 2016 6:11PM
New standards, now open for public comment, could govern plant’s final years.
PLYMOUTH — After operating for 20 years under an out-of-date water discharge permit, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, located on a mile-long stretch along Cape Cod Bay, may finish the last three years of its life following newer standards recently released in draft form by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The public has until July 18 to submit comments on the hefty document, which contains 41 heavily footnoted pages and nearly 300 additional sheets outlining procedures.
Since Pilgrim is scheduled to close in June 2019, the federal agency’s new permit would set certain rules for the plant’s final years of operation along with water discharge standards that must be followed once production of electricity ceases.
One important point is the change in the permit’s standards as of June 2019, said Damien Houlihan, chief of the Industrial Permits Section for EPA’s Region I. Allowed water withdrawal from Cape Cod Bay will drop from an average of just under 500 million gallons per day to an average of 27 million gallons per day.
In its written announcement regarding the draft, the EPA noted the operation of the plant’s water intake system “can cause or contribute to a variety of adverse environmental effects” to marine life. Fish larvae and eggs may get drawn into the cooling system as water is sucked in, and fish and other organisms may be injured or killed as they become jammed against intake screens.
“In addition to minimizing such incidents, the permit contains thermal discharge limits which are designed to assure the protection and propagation of a balanced, indigenous population of shellfish, fish and wildlife in and on the water,” the EPA states.
The maximum water temperature for discharge into the bay from the cooling system, however, shows no change. It is 102 degrees in the old permit as well as in the draft. There is a decrease in maximum temperature for water from the thermal backwash system, which drops from 120 degrees in the old permit to 115 in the draft.
Pilgrim currently draws about 500 million gallons of water from Cape Cod Bay daily to cool the nuclear reactor. The plant’s use and discharge of water is regulated by a five-year federal permit that was issued in 1991 and expired in 1996. EPA officials have said the permit has been “administratively continued” since the expiration date, but last month marked the 20-year anniversary since the document expired.
The permit lays out conditions to regulate the intake of water from Cape Cod Bay for cooling purposes and the discharge of heat and other water pollutants from outfall pipes leading to the bay.
Citizens groups have been unsuccessfully urging the EPA to update the permit for several years.
“This draft permit is too little, too late,” Margaret Sheehan, a Plymouth lawyer who has worked on initiatives with Cape Cod Bay Watch, wrote in an email to the Times. She called the longtime delay of the new permit “a violation of public trust.”
Pilgrim has had free use of Cape Cod Bay for nearly 50 years, Sheehan said. “Sucking in 510 million gallons a day of sea water has destroyed marine life and damaged natural resources that belong to the public.”
Houlihan agreed that Pilgrim’s water discharge permit was one of his agency’s “backlogged permits.”
He said the EPA had been working on the draft for a few years and he noted that regulations put into effect in 2014 had to be factored into the permit. Those will make time frames for regulated tasks more structured than in the past, he said.
Still, many requirements in the draft permit differ little from the 1991 document. Monitoring and reports on water temperatures, presence and level of metals and volatile organic compounds, oil and grease, and suspended solids will continue.
“We do have more testing and toxicity monitoring at the outfalls,” Houlihan said. “The toxicity in the effluent has to meet water quality standards for the aquatic life.”
Pine duBois, executive director of the Jones River Watershed Association, said she was concerned that “at first glance” it appeared federal regulators would not require Pilgrim to use newer technology “to protect the species of Cape Cod Bay from being sucked into the system and that allows very hot thermal discharges.”
DuBois noted this new permit would be “the sole defense” for Cape Cod Bay for the next several years. “It’s time that Pilgrim is held to a higher standard, and we were hoping EPA would do that,” she said.
Just when the permit goes into effect will depend on “the amount and breadth of the public comments,” Houlihan said. “It’s not atypical for it to take a year or two when a permit is complicated, and any power plant permit is complicated.”
— Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @chrislegereCCT.
How to comment
Comments may be sent by email, fax or mail to: George Papadopoulos Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Mail: EPA Office of Ecosystem Protection, 5 Post Office Square, Suite 100 (OEP06-1), Boston, MA 02109-3912; Fax: 617-918-0579 Source: Environmental Protection Agency