Nuclear Energy and Indian Point By Marilyn Elie
Nuclear power plants like Indian Point use enormous amounts of river water for cooling the machinery that generates electricity. They pay nothing for this public resource. The ecology of the Hudson River has been devastated because of the 2.5 Billion fish, larvae, and zoo plankton that the 40 foot intake pipe vacuums up. Water is returned to the river 30 degrees hotter than ambient river temperature and kills another .5 Billion fish. A multibillion dollar corporation uses the river, a public good, as both as a resource and a dump site for their waste heat in order to increase stockholder profit. The intake process and the thermal pollution are largely invisible and so are dismissed by nuclear proponents. Those who are aware of how the plant works and care about the environment know better. It is against the law of the land as written in the Clean Water Act. This is why the owner of Indian Point, Entergy, is now being required by the Department of Environmental Conservation to install closed cycle cooling. Closed cycle cooling will reduce water use by 95% and fish kill by 97% and bring Indian Point into compliance with the law. The cost of closed cycle cooling represents less than 6% of the annual profit of Indian Point Energy Center.
Radioactive Releases to the Air and Water?
The fight against the nuclear power plant Indian Point gets more contentious and ridiculous by the minute. Entergy, the company that owns the nuclear power plant Indian Point, made a presentation to the community at large trying to sell a bag of goods and forgot to close the bag so that the audience wouldn’t smell the nonsense.
As reported by many publications, the only remaining contention against the plant which was developed by the organization Rock the Reactors and submitted by the Not-For-Profit organization Riverkeeper to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was that the power plant uses the Hudson River water to cool to power plant. This cooling tower has been also killing the fish and other important estatuaries in the Hudson River for its benefit. Originally, Entergy claimed they were not killing fish which we knew smelled like bovine. However, after the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) declared that the water permit will not go through unless Entergy develops a real solution to the water intake system. Recently, Entergy with smiles on their face determined to create a “wedge wire cooling system” in an attempt to win approval for this inefficient and impractical method to keep fish out of the intake system at Indian Point. Entergy has even made claims that have been easily refuted by DEC data.
For example, they claimed that the water returned to the river from once through cooling was only 5 degrees hotter than river water. We all know that to be completely inaccurate since at the source or at the power plant the DEC and others have concluded that the water gets 30 degrees hotter and does grave damage to aquatic life.More nonsense reported was that a new NRC report that said once through cooling was not detrimental to the Hudson River. However, after research done by It was a study done by the NRC using data provided by Entergy; not the Department of Environmental Conservation.The main public relations person for Entergy, Jim Steets and nuclear engineer Fred Dacimo were the high level Entergy representatives who presented to the committee. They gave an appearance of knowledge and reasonableness and smiling lied with a straight face. They faced a skeptical audience of legislators who asked some tough questions. The chairman made it very clear this was the first in a series of meetings designed to get information. There will be another meeting shortly that will provided environmentalists with an opportunity to present facts and concerns. Why are the proponents for nuclear power who say that it is clean energy wrong? Proponents of nuclear energy point to the reactors at Indian Point and say that no green house gases are being emitted. While that is technically correct, accuracy demands that the carbon foot print of any fuel must be calculated for the entire fuel cycle from extraction to disposal. The Department of Energy rates nuclear as a low carbon fuel about on par with gas. However, this does not include the disposal costs of high level radioactive wastes that are deadly for over a million years. By law, the federal government, that is taxpayers, are required to foot this bill. Nuclear proponents refer to this waste as a resource and imply that it can be “recycled.” Only a small percentage of the plutonium in spent fuel rods can be reprocessed and rods can be processed only once. You end up with an even deadlier mix that still must be isolated from the environment. No reactor in this country uses this mixed oxide as a fuel because it is cheaper to process fuel from mined uranium. The French have contaminated the fishing beds in the Irish Sea with waste from reprocessing. The world is awash in plutonium for which there is no market and that raises serious questions of nuclear proliferation.
Closed Cycle Cooling
Nuclear power plants require regular and routine releases of radioactive isotopes to the air. Proponents of nuclear power dismiss this as below regulatory concern. Aging nuclear plants across the country, including Indian Point, are leaking tritium and related radioactive isotopes such as plutonium and cesium into rivers and aquifers. Unregulated accidental releases are unconscionable. While tritium has a short half life, plutonium and cesium are some of the most carcinogenic substances on earth. The fact is that one molecule of plutonium lodged in your lung will give you lung cancer; the only question is how long it will take to manifest.
Cost and Financing?
The cost of a new nuclear power plant is estimated at 12 Billion dollars by industry experts. There is an additional 2 Billion dollar cost for connection to the grid. Construction of nuclear power plants worldwide is a story of over budget construction costs and delays. Construction is possible only with enormous public subsidies since Wall Street will not take the risk. We do not need more gigantic cumbersome centralized power plants. We need generation that is distributed close to where it will be used with a lot of options to choose from so that our power grid is flexible and an outage at one large plant does not cause a crisis.
2. Is the wedge wire system proposed by Entergy sufficient to resolve any concerns regarding Indian Point?
No. Wedge wire is a complex screen that goes over the entrance to the 40 foot wide intake pipe for the power plant. It does nothing to decrease water use; it reduces fish kill by only 40% and does nothing to alleviate thermal pollution. It was designed for low volume systems operating on relatively still bodies of water like a lake, not high volume users like Indian Point which is situated on the fast moving Hudson River. In 2001 Entergy filed briefs in Supreme Court opposing the EPA recommendation that wedge wire could be used by nuclear power plants to mitigate fish kill. Their brief claimed that it was not effective. They were correct then, they are wrong now.