Power Plant Fish Kills Challenged
States Urged To Take Action
Trenton, NJ – A group of organizations have joined forces in calling on environmental officials in New Jersey and Delaware to require three industrial plants, the Salem Nuclear Generating Station, the Mercer Power plant in New Jersey, and the Delaware City Refinery in Delaware, to comply with a long ignored provision of the Clean Water Act that mandates those facilities minimize fish kills they cause. The Coalition is launching a campaign to call for action by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to stop these impacts by requiring cooling towers at these plants.
The three plants have been operating under expired permits that have allowed them to continue to evade compliance with section 316b of the Clean Water Act, a law passed in 1972.
“It is a breach of their legal and moral duty for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to fail to stop the needless fish slaughter at these three facilities by ensuring they comply with the Clean Water Act. The fish of the River don’t belong to power plants and industry, they are an essential part of the River ecosystem that needs to be protected for the benefit of all, particularly the anglers, recreational users and ecological integrity of our River,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.
In addition to the fish kills, the once-through cooling systems at these plants rob the Delaware River of millions of gallons of water. The discharge of superheated water from these plants add to algae blooms and bacteria growth, dropping dissolved oxygen levels. This further impacts fish and shellfish. The discharged water contains heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.
With flooding and sea level rise, the water intakes at these plants could be vulnerable. The intakes could be inundated with floodwater, causing problems, especially at the Salem facility.
“These plants are robbing us of the river that belongs to all of us. They are killing fish, stealing our water, and adding pollution to the Delaware River. These plants promote dirty and unsafe forms of energy that cause many environmental impacts. The technology has been there for decades to make these plants better protect the river. For too long the government has been protecting the polluters instead of protecting the River that belongs to all of us,” said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.
“The States must act promptly on these expired permits and stop the prolonged practice of these facilities generating energy at the expense of the Delaware Estuary ecosystem. The true social costs of the current system are too great,” said Hilary Semel, Executive Director, Eastern Environmental Law Center.
"The magnitude of death these plants cause is truly devastating, in the billions, impacting entire fisheries. Governor Christie needs to fulfill his campaign promise in his 1st 100 days in office to 'stop the fish slaughter resulting from the flawed cooling systems at the Salem nuclear plants' (Source: 10.5.09, politickernj.com). Over 1200 days later, the fish slaughter continues,” states Dave Pringle, Campaign Director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation.
“After Valero decided to mothball the Delaware City Refinery in 2009, Governor Jack Markell struck a deal with PBF Energy to acquire the Refinery inexpensively with $45M of direct Delaware taxpayer subsidies and $120M expense savings by not being mandated to installing a closed loop cooling systems prior owners had agreed to. PBF was able to purchase the refinery from Valero at a bargain basement price and proceeded to modernize the entire plant to maximize profits, with the noted exception of its fish killing water intake system. Today, the Refinery is making a tremendous profit but is not turning one cent into upgrading their decrepit water intake system. This wanton killing of fish for cooling water amounts to a government-subsidized shareholder-benefiting taking from our fisheries industry.” said Mark Martell, President of the Delaware Audubon Society.
“The UNPLUG Salem Campaign supported this effort to save the millions of fish and other marine life in the Delaware Bay from antiquated intake systems. It is long overdue and we expect the NJDEP to join with this effort,” said Norm Cohen, Executive Director for the Coalition for Peace and Justice and spokesperson for the Unplug Salem Campaign.
“Protections for fish species in the form of quotas placed on commercial and recreational anglers are on the rise. To allow these industrial plants to get away with extensive impacts to young fish while the anglers have to curb their fishing is unjustifiable and very unfair,” said Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society.
Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requires "that the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact." For facilities such as Mercer, Salem and the Delaware City Refinery this means reducing their impingement and entrainment fish kills.
According to the letters sent to the leaders of the state environmental agencies – Secretary Collin O’Mara in Delaware and Commissioner Martin in New Jersey -- Salem kills over 3 billion Delaware River fish and organisms a year; Mercer kills over 70 million; the Delaware City Refinery kills over 45 million – and these figures are only for the few species where the industry or agency actually counted, they do not include the impingement and entrainment deaths of all species.
Salem’s current permit expired in 2006, Mercer’s in 2011, and the Delaware City Refinery’s in 2002. That means these facilities have been operating under expired permits for as much as 11 years in the case of the refinery and that the facilities themselves have never been forced to comply with the 30 year old provision of the Clean Water Act.
“It’s time for this to stop,” said van Rossum. “These letters are but a first step in the many we are committed to take to ensure the fish of the Delaware River are protected from needless slaughter.”
The coalition that sent in the letters includes: NJ Sierra Club, Delaware Riverkeeper Network,
Eastern Environmental Law Center, NJ Environmental Federation, Delaware Chapter Sierra Club, Delaware Audubon Society, American Littoral Society, and the Coalition for Peace and Justice. Attorneys that have been engaged to assist with the initiative include those at the Eastern Environmental Law Center, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the Super Law Group.
Chernobyl at 27
The 27th anniversary of the catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl reminds us of both a sad legacy and a positive impact on the future.
The bad news came first. Chernobyl stunned many with the first total core meltdown of a nuclear reactor. A massive amount of deadly radiation encircled the northern hemisphere, affecting three billion people, and entered human bodies through breathing and the food chain. Some of the 100-plus radioactive chemicals from Chernobyl last for hundreds and thousands of years.
How many did Chernobyl harm? Before scientific studies could be done, skeptics commonly used the number 31 – the number of rescue workers extinguishing toxic fires who absorbed a very high radiation dose and died in a matter of days.
Beginning just six years after the 1986 meltdown, medical journal articles began to show rising numbers of people with certain diseases near Chernobyl. The first of these was children with thyroid cancer. Officials at a 2005 meeting in Vienna estimated 9,000 persons worldwide had developed cancer from the meltdown. But many anecdotes and studies had piled up, suggesting the real number was much greater.
In 2009, the New York Academy of Sciences published a book by a trio of Russian researchers, headed by Alexei Yablokov; one of us (JDS) edited the book. Yablokov’s team gathered an incredible 5,000 reports and studies. Many were written in Slavic languages and had never been seen by the public. The book documented high levels of disease in many organs of the body, even beyond the former Soviet Union. The Yablokov team estimated 985,000 persons died worldwide, a number that has risen since.
Government and industry leaders in the nuclear field assured the world that the lesson of Chernobyl had been learned, and that another full core meltdown would never occur. But on March 11, 2011 came the tragedy at Fukushima, releasing enormous amounts of radioactivity from not just one, but three reactor cores, and a pool storing nuclear waste. Again, the radioactivity circled the globe. Estimates of eventual casualties are in the many thousands.
In an odd way, Fukushima triggered the positive impact of Chernobyl. The two disasters are a major reason why few new nuclear reactors are being built, and why existing units are now closing. All but two (2) of 50 Japanese reactors remain shut. Germany closed six (6) of its units permanently and its government pledged to close the others by 2022. Swiss officials made a similar vow.
In the U.S., most plans to build dozens of new reactors have been scrapped or postponed. The nation’s first two reactor closings since 1998 occurred this year. More shut downs will follow, say nuclear executives who assert that nuclear power costs more to produce than from natural gas or wind. Reactors cost more largely due to greater dangers that require more time for construction, more staff to operate, more security measures, more regulations to comply with, and huge amounts to secure after shut down.
If Chernobyl harmed many people, it may also eventually save many lives by speeding the shut down of reactors. Fewer meltdowns would mean fewer casualties. But ending routine releases of radioactivity into the environment would also reduce the count. Studies have found that in local areas after reactor closing, fewer infants die, fewer children develop cancer, and eventually fewer adults develop cancer. Chernobyl left a tragic impact, but eventual outcomes will be positive ones.
Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.Janette D. Sherman MD is an internist and toxicologist, and editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.