Vermont Yankee Thermal Pollution
Over the last year the Council - thanks to the support of members, friends, and generous funders - has put together a technically-rigorous scientific take-down of Entergy’s case that its thermal pollution should be allowed to continue. Four reports have been developed by experts with decades of experience in biology, thermal pollution, engineering, and water quality modeling.
Entergy’s case is “significantly flawed” and relies on outdated science. The reports also show that VY’s permit uses a mathematical formula to say whether their pollution is within the limits, however the river itself says otherwise. Actual temperature data of the river taken by Entergy and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service shows the river exceeds the temperature limits 50 -75% of the time. Fish can’t do math, but they sure know when they are in hot water.
These reports have been presented to all the decision makers in Vermont, including the Agency of Natural Resources and the Public Service Board, who will decide later this year whether Entergy should get a new license to operate. Meanwhile, Entergy is fighting tooth and nail to get these reports thrown out. They have a stable of lawyers trying every which way they can keep the utility regulators from using these important findings in their review of Vermont Yankee’s environmental impact. That’s a pretty strong endorsement in our mind.
Thanks to the terrific legal support provided by the Vermont Natural Resources Council & the VT Law School, the reports have been admitted into the Public Service Board proceeding as sound scientific evidence. The next step, including another round of hearings for the Board to hear additional expert witness testimony followed by post-hearing briefs, will continue over the next half year. The fight’s not over yet, but it’s not a fair fight given Entergy’s deep pockets. Stay tuned and sign up to get updates delivered right to your inbox.
- Tell the Public Service Board what you think – submit a comment.
- Here’s what we said to the utility regulators – David Deen Testimony
- Here’s what the state said about our reports – Greenblatt Testimony, Samuelian Testimony
- You can see all the filings in this case at the Vermont Public Service Board electronic docket.
The expert reports are highly technical. You can download them here or read an easy-to-digest summary of the issues (PDF 50KB):
- Critique of Entergy's temperature compliance by HydroAnalysis, Aug 2012 (PDF 5MB)
- Critique of Entergy’s computer modeling by HydroAnalysis, Feb 2012 (PDF 2.2MB)
- Analysis of the narrow wildlife focus by Midwest Biodiversity Institute, Feb 2012 (PDF 0.5MB)
- Report on the most current and ecologically sound way to determine thermal impacts on fish , by Midwest Biodiversity Institute, May 2012 (PDF 0.8MB)
- A legal analysis of the issues by the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School (275KB)
- Letter to VT Agency of Natural Resources regarding persistent delay issuing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to Entergy by CRWC and the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, November 28, 2012 (150KB)
- David Deen's Rebuttal Testimony of April 29, 2013, in response to Entergy's latest brief (3.5MB)
Why CRWC is involved
Thermal pollution – the discharge of hot water like the one at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant – poses a serious threat to river ecology. Heating up the river confuses, weakens, and disrupts fish, which look to changes in water temperatures to migrate or breed. Of particular concern is the impact of increased temperature on migratory fish such as American shad and Atlantic salmon. American shad, in particular, have declined significantly in the Vernon Pool, the location of Entergy's discharge.
For well over 15 years Vermont Yankee has been permitted to raise the temperature of the entire Connecticut River up to 13 degrees during winter months and up to 5 degrees in the summer and fall. The nuclear power plant sends up to 543 million gallons of heated water, some of it at 105 degrees, into the river daily. That heated plume is shown to extend at least 55 miles downstream to Holyoke, MA. Vermont Yankee is allowed to bypass its cooling towers thanks to a permit from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. But the permit expired in 2006, and now expert consultants have found that the studies Entergy provided the state to get that permit are based on flawed science.
What we found out
CRWC has petitioned the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) to begin the permit renewal process – stalled since 2006. With these four reports in hand, we have provided the ANR with an independent, citizen-backed critique justifying a new permit with tougher temperature standards for thermal discharges into the Connecticut River by Vermont Yankee.
The CRWC-funded expert analysis of Entergy's case to continue dumping thermal pollution posed two simple questions:
1) Did Vermont Yankee accurately describe the size and extent of its plume of thermal pollution? NO - After Entergy’s own 1978 study revealed their 55-mile-long thermal plume in the Connecticut River, in 2004 they decided the plume was only half of a mile long. They also only used a limited amount of temperature data and compiled it in a way to mask its potential variability. Entergy is not required to measure the actual temperature of the river to prove they are in compliance with the law. Instead, they are allowed to use an overly simple temperature formula while the river is allowed to get much hotter than the permit allows.
2) Did Vermont Yankee provide enough information to prove they weren't threatening our fish, including Atlantic salmon and shad? NO – The Environmental Protection Agency has guidelines for how that should be done. In particular, EPA identifies five things that should be included in order to support a determination of whether or not fish communities will be harmed from a thermal discharge. Our experts found that none of the five were appropriately provided in Entergy's 2004 case.
Bottom line? Entergy is not using the tools they have in a way that will enable them - and all of us - to have a clear picture of the impact their pollution has on the river.
Photo credits (above): ©Al Braden www.albradenphoto.com, CRWC Staff
Image Credits at Right - Illustrations: Bill Singleton; Photos: ©Al Braden www.albradenphoto.com, CRWC Staff.