The state Department of Environmental Protection’s new draft water discharge permit for the Oyster Creek nuclear plant calls for the plant’s owners to build cooling towers, a proposal a company official said will put the plant out of business.
“On several occasions, the NJDEP considered and rejected this kind of closed cycle cooling at Oyster Creek. … reasoning … that cooling towers are not cost effective at Oyster Creek,” said Joseph Dominguez, senior vice president for Exelon Generation. “Indeed, Exelon will have no alternative but to close Oyster Creek if it is ultimately required to construct cooling towers.”
The DEP notified Oyster Creek officials of the proposed changes in the plant’s New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit on Jan. 7. Oyster Creek is located on Route 9 south in Lacey Township.
“The use of cooling towers would result in a much healthier bay,” acting DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello said. “A healthier bay means a better quality of life for the region’s residents as well as improved recreational experiences for those who visit to swim, fish, crab, watch wildlife or to simply soak up the bay’s beauty.”
The new proposed permit was good news to Save Barnegat Bay Chairman William de- Camp.
“I’m pretty sure this is the biggest victory for the bay in a generation,” deCamp said. “It’s really big. I think people are going to see a difference. When the towers get built within a few years, I think people are going to see a more vibrant and biologically alive Barnegat Bay. We are just thrilled about it.”
DeCamp once referred to the Forked River as the only river in the world that “runs backwards” because of the massive amount of water the plant draws from it every day.
Save Barnegat Bay is just one organization in a coalition of citizen groups that opposed the NRC’s 2009 relicensing of the plant for another 20 years. The coalition has called on the governor and DEP to mandate cooling towers for Oyster Creek for many years.
“When the problem is as clear cut as this one, it’s not a total surprise,” deCamp said. “It took them [DEP] a long time,” deCamp said. “Environmentally we are right and economically it wouldn’t close the plant.”
Oyster Creek has used the current intake and discharge cooling system since the plant opened in December 1969. The plant’s primary source of intake water is the Forked River.
Oyster Creek currently uses intake water for two purposes. The circulating water and service water systems use up to 662.4 million gallons per day to cool the main condenser. The dilution water system uses up to 748.8 million gallons per day to mitigate the thermal effects in the discharge canal to Oyster Creek, according to the DEP’s fact sheet on the plant’s current system
Oyster Creek’s 2005 draft NJPDES permit was issued based on regulations that were in effect at the time. The regulations have since been repealed. The federal Clean Water Act requires that the “best technology available” to minimize adverse environmental effects be used in a particular location.
Dominguez said the new draft permit was only “one step” in the permitting process.
“We are confident that science and common sense will prevail and that the final permit issued by the DEP will not require the installation of cooling towers,” he said.
The DEP based its determination on “significant impingement and entrainment losses” on marine life in Barnegat Bay documented in both historic and current data, according to the report.
Impingement occurs when organisms are trapped against intake screens by the force of the water passing through the cooling water intake structure. It can result in starvation, exhaustion or asphyxiation of marine life, the report states.
Entrainment occurs when organisms are drawn through the cooling water intake structure into the cooling system, exposing them to mechanical, thermal and/or toxic stress, according to the report.
“The magnitude of these losses is due primarily to the location of OCGS (Oyster Creek Generating Station) in a marine environment,” the report states. “Closed-cycle cooling will reduce water intake usage significantly, thereby decreasing impingement and entrainment effects.”
The DEP noted a number of other reasons for the decline in the health of Barnegat Bay, including non-point source pollution loading, nitrogen loading, motorized boat and jet-ski usage, eutrophication, loss of wetland and other estuarine habitats.
“Nonetheless, OCGS is also contributing impacts through impingement and entrainment effects,” the report states. “These plantrelated impacts can be minimized through closed-cycle cooling.”
Oyster Creek’s closure would result in the loss of more than 700 jobs and would cost New Jersey consumers $190 million annually in added electricity costs, Dominguez said.
“The department does not agree that the permittee has substantiated that cooling towers are ‘unavailable’ to OCGS at this time,” the DEP report on the proposed permit states. “As a result, based on the information available at this time, the Department has determined that closed-cycle cooling is an available technology to OCGS.”
Dominguez also questioned the timing of the proposal.
“The administration had four years to consider this draft permit yet took no action until barely a week before the inauguration of its successor,” he said. “At a time when everyone from national police leaders to founding members of Greenpeace and the American environmentalmovement recognize the vital importance of emissions-free energy from the nation’s nuclear plants, this decision in the waning days of the Corzine administration is curious.”
The first public hearings on the proposed draft permit will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Lacey Township municipal building on Lacey Road.
Oyster Creek is the oldest nuclear plant in the United States. It went on line on Dec. 23, 1969.