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Vermont Yankee

Vt. Yankee asked to monitor river warming with samples

VERNON, Vt. — The state’s Agency of Natural Resources wants Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant to monitor how much it warms the Connecticut River with actual sampling rather than through estimates and calculations.

The agency on Thursday released its long-awaited draft permit for the nuclear plant governing its release of cooling water into the Connecticut River.

The draft permit, replacing a discharge permit that expired seven years ago and had been the subject of debate and lawsuits brought by the Greenfield-based Connecticut River Watershed Council, immediately won praise from the nonprofit environmental group for upholding its contention that “bad science” underwrote the thermal discharge limits in previous permits.

The fact sheet accompanying the draft permit says that the science used to monitor thermal limits previously was flawed, predicting rather than actually measuring water, and discounting the effects of sunlight and any other source of temperature increase.

The council’s river steward, David Deen, called the state’s move “an important first step. We’ve been after them to write this kind of permit for years.”

Said Deen, “Fish don’t do math but they know when they are in hot water.”

The draft permit allows reactor owner Entergy to use the same modeling tool until the plant closes at the end of the year, but also imposes actual temperature caps as compliance triggers at the same time to ensure thermal discharge will maintain the river’s balanced, indigenous population of shellfish, fish and wildlife, the watershed council said.

The real strength of the permit lies in the temperature limits and that the maximum temperatures — enforced by actual river measurements — have a strong biological basis and are protective of migratory fish, said the Watershed Council. Under the prior flawed permit, the use of an equation to determine compliance allowed the river to be as much as 5 to 7 degrees hotter than the permit limits allowed, for extended periods of time during critical periods for migratory fish.

Entergy has contended that the new standards would require on-site cooling of the water now being released into the Connecticut. That alternative, called closed-cycle cooling, uses large fans, is energy-intensive, and reduces the amount of power the plant can sell.

The Vernon plant operated for about 18 years without discharging heated water into the Connecticut under a “closed cycle” system before discharging warm, non-radioactive water into the river.

Deen said that given a 30-day comment period on the draft permit, followed by a hearing planned for sometime in August and the possibility of an appeal by Entergy, the permit may not come in time for the outmigration in October and November of young shad born to the 26,000 shad that passed the Vernon Dam this year.

“Young shad in warm water become disoriented and don’t know down from up or up from down,” said Deen. “By cooling the temperature in that time period and keeping it at 65 degrees, that’s much closer to their preferred temperature where they don’t get disoriented, and presumably they will have a higher rate of passage through that warm-water plume.”

He added, “We hope (Entergy) would rather pay to protect the fish” than pay lawyers to appeal the permit.

If it goes into force, the permit could set a precedent to be used in other jurisdictions that face thermal discharge issues, the Watershed Council said.

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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