My Turn: This river’s nuclear nightmare

  • Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project upper reservoir. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/13/2021 6:55:57 AM

This April 30 the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station (NMPS), the most efficient aquatic killer of all nuclear age machines installed on the Connecticut, begins its fourth year without a new federal license. NMPS’s massive suction kills everything it inhales. Federal studies on America shad show tens of millions of eggs and larvae extinguished annually, plus the deaths of over 2 million juvenile shad sucked in on migrations to the sea. Its unstudied impacts on 20 odd other resident and migrant species leave plenty more death to ponder.

Vermont Yankee, the nuke Northfield once sucked its energy from, closed in 2014. Rather than creating virgin electricity, NMPS is a net-loss, gravity-defying machine that consumes 30% more juice than it returns to the grid. Its annual power deficit is so high it actually cancels out most of the real hydropower input generated yearly in the Turner Falls canal. Today half of NMPS’s net power loss operations are powered on climate-scorching natural gas, another quarter comes from imported nuclear, and the rest largely from shipped-in Canadian hydro. The New England power grid has and can chug along without NMPS’s massive daily impacts. But it’s a big-grid cash cow that ISO-New England, the “independent” system operator, has long kept ratepayers tied to for its few hours of deadly, once-through, stored generation. That deadly, daily regime should have long ago been stopped–relegated to its early-stated use in rare power emergencies. But the Baker Administration and PSP Investments, NMPS’s Canadian parent owners, are looking to pair-up and shackle further use of this ecosystem crippler with distant ocean turbines for decades. It’s a twisted, fairytale climate “solution”—an environmental nightmare for future generations. The Greek myth will be told as “Ocean Sent to Kill Its River Children.”

This April 30 Hudson Riverkeeper will celebrate the end of a long nuclear-age nightmare. Entergy’s last Indian Point nuke shuts down for good that day, years before its license expires. That comes via legal agreements hammered out by Riverkeeper along with the State of New York — and joined by the group Scenic Hudson. That early shutdown will reportedly save the 1.2 billion fish, larvae and eggs sucked to their deaths in Indian Point tunnels where flow is massively swallowed at rates of 2-1/2 billion gallons per day. Northfield Mountain’s river gorging is yet more grim. Its anti-gravity, twice-through turbines render it fully lethal.

Riverkeeper’s victory actually dates to 1966 when a small group of commercial and recreational anglers formed the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association (HRFA), vowing fight Consolidated Edison. Giant Con Ed wanted to blast apart Storm King Mountain for a cavernous, river-suctioning pumped storage plant. Huge slugs of energy would be needed to suck hours-long river diversions uphill to a reservoir. The mega-juice needed for that massive lifting would hail from the excess output of the Indian Point nuclear station. But HRFA saw pumped storage as a pact with the devil, a grim fish shredder. They took to the streets; then dragged Con Ed into court.

It took 15 years, but in 1980 HRFA and Scenic Hudson won that David and Goliath battle against Con Ed’s building of Storm King. It’s credited as spurring the environmental movement in the United States. HRFA changed its name to Riverkeeper in 1980. Today its take-no-prisoners mission in prosecuting corporate offenders is a model of river defense. Riverkeeper and its offshoot Waterkeeper now boast over 350 chapters across the US and worldwide. They’ve won cases on the Hudson against the likes of Exxon-Mobil, General Electric — even New York State, itself.

In Massachusetts, Northfield’s nuclear-age killing continues daily though the Connecticut’s last nuke, Vermont Yankee, shut in 2014. NMPS has been the festering daily wound to this ecosystem since it was completed by WMECO/Northeast Utilities in 1972 to run on Vermont Yankee’s juice. Vermont Yankee and Northfield came on line together. Founded in 1952, The Connecticut River Watershed Council was over a decade old when NU/WMECO proposed their contraption in the mid-’60s. Sadly, CRWC never challenged them. They were fully 20 years old when Northfield went live. Forty decades on CRWC remained silent again on NMPS in 2014 when VY closed.

While HRFA waged its battle, opportunity was endlessly squandered here. Today NU remains the perennial major funder/sponsor of CRWC’s marquee “Source to Sea Cleanup.” They now do business as Eversource while CRWC is renamed the Connecticut River Conservancy. A close financial relationship has long existed between the two. In January Eversource was cited as the largest spender in opposing climate and clean energy bills in the Bay State. The study, “Whose Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts,” was authored by Galen Hall, Trevor Culhane, and J. Timmons Roberts of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab. Why do the green-washing for a corporation that built our river’s worst nightmare? For mission, fight and enforcement, other models exist.

Karl Meyer is has been a member of the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team for the federal relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and Turner Falls hydro projects since 2012. Meyer lives in Greenfield. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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