The Pilgrim nuclear plant and the Indian Point nuclear plant have a lot of similarities. Both plants are owned by Entergy and both are located on east coast water bodies (Cape Cod Bay for Pilgrim, and the Hudson River for Indian Point). Another similarity is the fact that both plants use a destructive once-through cooling system to cool equipment and condense steam used in the electricity generation process. This type of outdated technology uses huge quantities of water from the water sources they are sited on. Each day, Pilgrim uses 510 million gallons and Indian Point, nearly 3X the size of Pilgrim, uses billions of gallons. Each plant kills a multitude of aquatic species – billions of organisms every year – as water is sucked in for cooling. Larger organisms (fish, lobsters, etc.) get impinged when they are stuck to the intake screens, and smaller organisms (plankton, fish eggs and larvae) are entrained when they are pulled through the screens and into the facility.
At Indian Point, Entergy is supposed to be working with federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), to come up with a plan to monitor its takes of sturgeon. Both Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon are listed as endangered and are affected by Indian Point.
Entergy recently proposed a plan to tie frozen sturgeon to its Hudson River intake structure, to determine how long the fish are stuck to the screen. The company would also utilize underwater cameras to monitor what happens to the frozen fish over time. NMFS quickly rejected the idea, based on the fact that frozen fish do not behave like live fish or decay in the same way once impinged on the screens. NMFS concluded that this method would fail to provide a good representation what happens to actual, live fish impinged on Indian Point’s intake screens. There were also concerns about placing non-native fish – and potentially introducing new diseases – into the Hudson. The company was proposing to use farm raised sturgeon in the study.
Perhaps utilizing underwater cameras to monitor what happens to the native and migrating fish being impinged at the plant would be a better idea? It certainly gave us the idea here at Cape Cod Bay Watch that perhaps Entergy should be employing underwater cameras to capture what’s happening at the intake structure at all of their nuclear plants – including Pilgrim. While it wouldn’t prevent the impingements and entrainments from occurring, it could provide regulators and legislators (and us!) with a better understanding of what’s occurring underwater because of the plant’s once-through cooling system.
While NMFS claims to be working hard to come up with a monitoring plan at Indian Point, the discussions have already dragged out for a year and there is no deadline to come up with a solution. In the meantime, endangered sturgeon are still being injured and killed by Indian Point.
At Pilgrim, there are no discussions at all about monitoring plans for the species being impacted in Cape Cod Bay, including river herring and rainbow smelt (“species of concern”).
By September, the Environmental Protection Agency promises to re-issue Pilgrim’s long-expired NPDES permit (the Clean Water Act permit that allows them to operate its once-through cooling system). The new draft permit should be available for public comment at that time. While we hope that the updated permit will ultimately require a closed-system (uses about 95% less water), perhaps monitoring fish impingements with underwater cameras could be done by Entergy in the meantime, since Entergy has failed to continue previous monitoring protocols required by their permit.