Watershed Council Asks State To Act On Yankee Water Permit

02/18/11 7:35AM By John Dillon
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
(Host) An environmental group says warm water released by Vermont Yankee hurts fish in the Connecticut River.

So it's asked the Agency of Natural Resources to set tighter temperature limits to protect water quality.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Yankee uses the Connecticut River to cool the reactor. And it takes a lot of water. The state allows the plant to use 543 million gallons a day, and return it back to the river heated to 105 degrees.

The state permit expired five years ago. And the Connecticut River Watershed Council says that's too long to wait without a new review. David Deen is the council's river steward.

(Deen) "The underlying permit allows the entire Connecticut River temperature to be raised by 5 degrees. And the question for us is does increasing the temperature of the entire Connecticut River 5 degrees damage the ecosystem. And our claim is that it does."

(Dillon) Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz says the Shumlin administration is taking a fresh look at the issue.

But she says writing the new permit will take time and technical expertise. And she points out that the plant is scheduled to shut down when its license expires in March of next year.

(Markowitz) "So now the question, ironically, is do we go ahead with the process that could cost $200,000, that will take a whole year, for a plant that is going to close in 2012? And so if truly the plant is going to close on schedule, the plant might close before this schedule is complete."

(Deen) "There's absolutely no surety that that's going to happen."

(Dillon) David Deen is a critic of Vermont Yankee, but he's not making any bets that it'll close on schedule. He says legal challenges could keep the plant open beyond 2012. And he says the state can get the money back from Yankee for the technical work on the permit.

Deen is a state lawmaker as well as a former fishing guide. And he says he saw the problems of the Connecticut firsthand when he took clients out to fish for American shad. The migratory fish were abundant in the 1980s, returning to the river to spawn every spring by the tens of thousands.

(Deen) "In the case of the Vernon discharge, the number of fish in 1993 was some 37,000. In 2009 it was 16, not 16,000, but 16 fish."

(Dillon) Even though the permit has expired, its conditions still apply. Yankee says it strictly follows the permit requirements. And plant spokesman Larry Smith says it takes 20 megawatts of the plant's power production to run the giant fans in the plant's cooling system.

(Smith) "That's power that's not available on the grid and sometimes there are needs in the New England power system for having as much power available as possible. To use the cooling towers, again, uses that up. And if you are not having any detrimental environmental effect by discharging warm water into the Connecticut River - and we monitor that closely, upstream and downstream - then why would there be a need to use them?"

(Dillon) But Deen says that for Entergy Vermont Yankee the issue lost power sales.

(Deen) "That 20 megawatts is a subsidy that the Connecticut River is providing to the stockholders of Entergy. It is not power that is needed in the market at this time."

(Dillon) Deen also wants Yankee to pay for studies to find out how the warm water has affected the river.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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