Update: ANR issued its permit October 12, 2014. It had lapsed in 2005. There were “wins” and “losses.” The wins: Entergy has to monitor the actual water temperature rather than rely on modeling and estimate. Yankee can discharge water up to 85 degrees for 3 months rather than 4; since this is the last summer & fall Yankee will be open, this doesn’t feel like the “win” it could have been a dozen years ago. It is the losses that matter given the short time frame: the winter temperature limits stay the same, and ANR eliminated oversight by the environmental advisory board. BFP 10.13.14
Why a Flotilla on the Connecticut River?
With record breaking drought and heat waves in 2012 and predicated again for this summer, the relationship between nuclear power and water has become crystal clear. Power plants use massive amount of water for cooling. Many reactors, including Vermont Yankee, were forced to reduce power or shut down last summer because the river water was too hot going into the reactors to cool them sufficiently. When the water is too hot going in, it’s too hot coming out.
50% to 65% of energy generated by nuclear reactors is waste heat. If it is not converted into electricity, something has to be done with that wasted energy. . The water at discharge can be as high as 105 degrees, shocking aquatic life. Yankee dumps 500 million gallons of heated water daily into the river. The thermal plume stretches for 55 miles, to Holyoke, Mass. This is most apparent in the winter; there is no ice fishing below Yankee until the Oxbow.
Since the 1990s, American shad have declined by 99% at the discharge pool. Warm water fish, rather than cold water species, now predominate.
There is no reason for this thermal pollution of the river. A closed loop system, using existing cooling towers, enables reactors to avoid thermal pollution. Entergy says it is too expensive to use cooling towers all the time.
In addition, Yankee is operating without a state permit required by the Clean Water Act. The original permit was granted in 1971. In 2001, prior to permit’s expiration date, Entergy applied for an amendment, which the state granted. Trout Unlimited, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the New England Coalition, and Citizens Awareness Network appealed. There has been no state action on the permit since the VT Supreme Court’s final decision in 2009. Yankee is in effect operating under a ‘zombie’ permit.
We will not sit silently while Entergy puts profits over the life of our river.
Selected further reading:
David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, has written “Nuclear plants like Goldilocks weather — not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” With climate change, Goldilocks weather is rare. Lochbaum’s slide presentation on water and nuclear energy can be seen here:
Connecticut River Watershed Council: studies and reports on thermal pollution caused by Vermont Yankee. http://www.ctriver.org/programs/advocacy/thermal_pollution/index.html
Inside Climate News on how climate change affects nuclear reactors. “First, based on climate-model projections, the temperature of the water will be higher because of raised air temperatures, and it will be too high at times to adequately cool the plant. … Secondly, there may simply not be enough water to safely divert the flow and return it to the waterway.”
Reports on Flotilla 2013
See photos from the day on our Facebook page (even if you’re not a Facebook fan).
Rutland Herald front page article by Susan Smallheer: rutlandherald.com/article/ HINSDALE, N.H. — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will investigate the finances of three nuclear reactors owned by Entergy Nuclear — Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim in Massachusetts and the FitzPatrick reactors in New York — as a result of a petition by four anti-nuclear groups.
Deb Katz, executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, said Saturday that the NRC accepting the petition for review was a major accomplishment for the groups. She said she hoped the NRC would get answers to many people’s questions about Entergy’s financial status.
Katz made her remarks during the “Flotilla 2013” rally and protest Saturday on the banks of the Connecticut River, directly across from the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon, Vt.
Entergy, the corporate parent of Vermont Yankee, announced last month it was laying off 800 employees out of its workforce of 15,000 nationwide. The cuts translate to a 4.6 percent staff cut at Yankee, which will lose 30 employees out of a total of 650.
Earlier in the year, the company announced it had been forced to write down the value of Vermont Yankee from $517 million to $162 million due to ongoing financial problems.
The NRC announced late last week that it was accepting the petition and would delve into Entergy’s finances.
NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said Friday the commission had already started a similar review of Vermont Yankee’s finances, and would add Pilgrim and FitzPatrick to the review.
The anti-nuclear groups initially filed the petition in March, but it was rejected. They resubmitted the petition with additional information in April and it was accepted by the NRC committee that hears such petitions.
Katz said after the rally Saturday that the groups based their financial concerns on UBS Investment Research documents.
Vermont Yankee is particularly vulnerable to changing power markets, she said, because it is a “merchant” plant and sells its output on the open market. As of March 2012, Yankee no longer has any contracts to sell its power to Vermont utilities and the open market has been depressed because of a strong supply of natural gas.
“They bet on the wrong horse,” Katz said, referring to Entergy’s decision to sell on the open market.
In addition to the Citizens Awareness Network, the Alliance for a Green Economy, Pilgrim Watch and Vermont Citizens Awareness Network, submitted the NRC petition.
Entergy spokesman James Sinclair responded Saturday: “We are aware of the petition, don’t believe it has merit and it doesn’t distract us from our focus on safely and reliably operating our plants.”
Saturday’s protest was designed to bring public attention to the fact that Vermont Yankee daily dumps 200 million gallons of “hot” water into the Connecticut River to save money by not running its cooling towers.
The water, which is actually about 100 degrees at discharge, raises the river to a state-regulated level that environmental groups such as the Connecticut River Watershed Council say damages fisheries and the environmental health of the river.
Dr. Andrew Larkin, a retired internist from Northampton, Mass., said the Connecticut River was 10 degrees warmer near the plant’s discharge than other spots in the river he tested.
One protester, Harvey Schakman of Shelburne Falls, Mass., wore a giant fish hat made of copper, and said he was “Shadman,” reciting a history of destruction and pollution of the Connecticut River, decimating the shad population.
“The heated water coming from the reactor confused us, but still we persisted,” Schakman said, adding that only one in 10 shad get past all the dams on the Connecticut River, “only to be cooked by the reactor.”
“We have lost so many, now we are down to a few, but still we persist,” he said.
This is the second year that the SAGE Alliance, a coalition of antinuclear groups, has organized the flotilla to focus public attention on the water discharge.
About two dozen kayaks and canoes took to the water, with an equal number of people on shore to protest the daily discharge of warm water. Some people wrote messages to Entergy on cedar shingles and set them floating on the river.
“No nuclear accidents. All it takes is one,” wrote Elo-Mai Noormets of Westminster, Vt.
“Peace and health to this river,” wrote Leslie Sullivan Sachs of Brattleboro, Vt.
Saturday was a classic summer day with blue skies, temperatures hovering near 80. Strong winds made paddling a challenge as the Connecticut River was high and slightly muddy from Friday’s heavy rains..
There was no sign of steam coming from Vermont Yankee’s two banks of cooling towers.
The Commons (August 12, 2013 by Randy T. Holhut)
It could have been just another protest against the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, albeit one that took place on the Connecticut River on a warm, bright, and windy Saturday.
But for two dozen or so kayakers and canoeists who took to the river, and their allies who stood on the river’s shore just off the Fort Hill Branch rail trail, there was good news to celebrate.
According to Deb Katz, the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had told the antinuclear group that it had accepted its petition filed against Entergy, the owner of Vermont Yankee and several other nuclear plants in the Northeast, that challenges the corporation’s ability to operate the plants safely.
But now, the argument against the continued operation of three of Entergy’s oldest nuclear plants — Vermont Yankee, the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Mass., and the James A. Fitzpatrick plant in Scriba, N.Y. — hinges upon financial concerns.
Although the NRC’s Petition Review Board rejected CAN’s request for an immediate shutdown of the reactors, it agreed last week to accept CAN’s petition for the next step in the review process.
In an Aug. 7 letter, NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation Eric Leeds wrote to CAN that the agency “issued a Request for Additional Information regarding its 10 CFR 50.33 financial qualification review to Vermont Yankee; the licensee’s response is currently under NRC review. If further NRC inquiry determines that Entergy’s financial qualifications pose an immediate danger to the public health and safety and the environment, the NRC will take appropriate action to address the concern.”
“We are aware of the petition, don’t believe it has merit, and [it] will not distract us from our focus on safely and reliably operating our plants,” Entergy communications manager James Sinclair wrote in a prepared statement sent to Vermont media.
NRC regulations require nuclear corporations to be “financially qualified” to operate and maintain nuclear reactors safely. Katz said the NRC will now investigate whether Entergy is in violation of these regulations and will decide whether to grant the petitioners’ request to shut down the reactors to prevent economic strain from compromising nuclear safety.
The petition was filed on March 18 by Citizens Awareness Network (Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York), Alliance for a Green Economy (New York), Pilgrim Watch (Massachusetts), and Vermont Citizens Action Network (Vermont).
“It’s rare that the NRC accepts petitions from citizens groups,” Katz said after the rally. “But Entergy is vulnerable, and the people and the (Vermont) Legislature need to know how vulnerable Entergy is right now.”
How vulnerable? Katz said that based on the analyses by the financial services company UBS, it will incur more than $125 million in losses at Vermont Yankee over the next three years.
Should VY run at full capacity with no unscheduled shutdowns and no major repairs over the next three years, Katz said it will still lose that much money. She contends that decisions such as postponing the replacement of a cracked steam condenser are being based more on financial, rather than safety, concerns.
And Katz said that required retrofits to VY that have become necessary after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 will make the plant even less profitable for Entergy.
The costs of Entergy doing business has come to the forefront of conversation since Entergy announced last month it would lay off 30 employees at Vermont Yankee. The cuts are part of an organization-wide reorganization strategy. The company has announced lower earnings for the past two quarters.
Mark Cooper, a senior fellow at Vermont Law School, released a report in July on economic pressures for aging nuclear plants. The report listed Vermont Yankee as one of the nation’s plants likely to close before its current operating license expires.
Cooper also cited reports from financial analysts with UBS estimating that NRC-mandated Fukushima-related facility upgrades could cost between $15 million and $40 million per facility.
Moody’s announced last fall that concerns over the reliability of older nuclear plants were being “masked” by the low price of natural gas and reduced demand for electricity.
VY, Pilgrim, and Fitzpatrick are especially vulnerable as they are all “merchant plants,” Katz said, meaning they sell their power on the open market and do not have long-term contracts or ownership by electric distribution companies. With reduced power demand and low natural gas prices, many electric utilities see nuclear power as too expensive.
“Entergy bet on the wrong horse,” said Katz. “They invested heavily in nuclear and coal, and neither of those fuels can compete with natural gas right now. The nuclear companies are just trying to save their own skins.”
Entergy is waiting for the Vermont Public Service Board to issue a Certificate of Public Good that would allow Vermont Yankee to continue to operate legally. It is also waiting for the resolution of a lawsuit in federal court against the state of Vermont regarding the state’s ability to have a say in the continued operation of the plant.
Vermont Yankee’s original 40-year operating license expired last year. The NRC granted a 20-year extension in 2011.
Saturday’s protest was organized by the SAGE Alliance, a coalition of antinuclear groups, to call attention to Vermont Yankee’s continued discharge of warm water into the Connecticut River. Opponents of the plant contend that the temperature of the river has risen, subsequently drastically reducing the shad population.
Katz said the practice is mainly being done by Entergy as a money-saving measure. She said using the cooling towers, which were designed to reduce the temperature of the river water used to cool the reactor before it’s discharged back into the river, is costly for Entergy.