Indian Point Violates the Clean Water Act

David Cassuto

From the Finally Smelling the Decaf Desk: NY State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has ruled that the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant (located just north of NYC) violates the Clean Water Act.  The plant’s cooling technology, which has been obsolete for decades, kills so many fish and contaminates so much water that it cannot be relicensed without a substantial retrofit.  Switching the plant over to modern cooling methods will cost over $1 billion and will require a significant shutdown. 

The plant currently uses “once-through technology.”  This means that it takes in 2.5 billion gallons of water per day– more than twice the average daily consumption of New York City — and turns it into steam, which then cools the reactors.  The hot water is then pumped back into the river.  

Nothing about this process is good.  Billions of aquatic organisms, including the endangered shortnose sturgeon, are killed when they are sucked into the plant’s cooling mechanism or crushed against its screens.  In addition, the hot water injection significantly disrupts the riverine ecosystem.  By contrast, “closed cycle” technology functions much like a car radiator.  It uses 10% of the water and kills far less aquatic life.

Environmental organizations have been fighting the plant’s relicensing for years (read Riverkeeper’s letter in opposition here) with little success.   The tide would now seem to have shifted. Entergy Corp, which owns Indian Point, hasn’t decided what it will do.  Litigation seems likely and the outcome far from clear.  Nevertheless, this ruling is a significant step and a victory for all who believe in fish, ecosystems and the rule of law.

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