SAFE ENERGY COMMUNICATION COUNCIL NUCLEAR INFORMATION AND RESOURCE SERVICE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES STANDING FOR TRUTH ABOUT RADIATION
WASHINGTON (February 22, 2001) — A landmark report issued today by three nuclear watchdog groups and the nation's largest animal protection organization charges that the nuclear power industry, contrary to its environmentally friendly public relations image, has knowingly destroyed animals and delicate marine ecosystems, and has routinely killed endangered species over the past three decades due to the widespread use of an ecologically harmful cooling technology.
The report, Licensed to Kill: How the Nuclear Power Industry Destroys Endangered Marine Wildlife and Ocean Habitat to Save Money, further documents a lack of oversight by governmental regulatory agencies, particularly the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that may border on collusion.
"Tragically, under the present regulatory system, the nuclear power industry's needs almost always prevail over the interests of marine life," said Scott Denman, Executive Director of the Safe Energy Communication Council (SECC).
"Instead of applying sanctions when a nuclear plant kills more than its allotted quota of endangered species, NRC almost always supports industry attempts to raise the limits on the number of animals that can be killed or captured during reactor operation," Denman added.
The Safe Energy Communication Council, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Standing for Truth about Radiation (STAR), and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), are the four groups issuing Licensed to Kill.
"The nuclear power industry is essentially licensed to kill by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to accommodate company profit margins. Regulators are constantly pressured by the nuclear industry to stretch the rules and not enforce such laws as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act," said Michael Mariotte, NIRS Executive Director.
The report documents the nuclear power industry's use of the ecologically harmful, but relatively inexpensive once-through cooling technology responsible for devastating marine ecosystems from New England to California.
Once-through cooling technology is used exclusively in 48 nuclear reactors with 11 additional reactors employing the technology in conjunction with cooling towers and canals. These reactors, situated on coastal waters, major rivers, and lakes can draw in as much as a billion gallons of water per reactor unit a day, nearly a million gallons a minute, in order to dissipate the extraordinary amounts of waste heat generated in the fission process.
The initial devastation of marine life and ecosystems stems from the powerful intake of water into the nuclear reactor. Marine life, ranging from endangered sea turtles and manatees down to delicate fish larvae and microscopic planktonic organisms vital to the ocean ecosystem, is sucked irresistibly into the reactor cooling system, a process known as entrainment. Some of these animals are killed, either through impingement (animals are caught and trapped against filters, grates, and other reactor structures), or, in the case of air-breathing animals like turtles, seals, and manatees, drown or suffocate.
"Nuclear power stations are routinely allowed to destroy alarming percentages of fish stocks and larvae entrained through cooling water intakes," said Bob Alvarez, Executive Director of the STAR Foundation, based on Long Island Sound. "In contrast, the commercial fishing industry must submit to strict regulatory standards including fines and license suspension for illegal takes."
The report notes that an equally huge volume of wastewater is then discharged at temperatures up to 25 degrees F hotter than the water into which it flows. Indigenous marine life suited to colder temperatures is consequently eliminated or, in the case of endemic fish, forced to move, disrupting delicately balanced ecosystems.
Moreover, the new, warmer ambient water temperatures often encourage warm-water species to colonize the artificially maintained warm-water zone. When the warm water flow is diminished or halted because of maintenance, cleaning, or repair work on the reactor, these species are often "cold-stunned;" many subsequently die of hypothermia. Species affected include endangered sea turtles, marine mammals, fish, and sea birds.
In addition, the heated water is discharged with such force that surrounding seabeds are often scoured to bare rock, leaving a virtual marine desert bereft of life on the ocean floor.
"Although responsible for enforcing compliance with intake and discharge permits at reactors under the terms of the Clean Water Act, the EPA has largely failed to establish national performance standards," said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Watchdog Project at NIRS and a report author. "When faced with the opportunity to enforce "best available technology" standards, the EPA has buckled to industry pressure and left the marine environment to pay the price."
Similarly, state water and wildlife authorities fall prey to nuclear industry pressure tactics and falsifications. In numerous incidents, nuclear utilities have falsified data and concealed and withheld information from environmental regulators that would have revealed the true extent of the environmental damages wrought by their reactor operations.
In perhaps the most egregious example, the California utility, Pacific
Gas & Electric (PG&E), for many years, provided state water authorities with skewed data that omitted known marine damage by its Diablo Canyon reactors.
PG&E claimed that the plant's intake and discharge of billions of gallons of seawater a day did little harm to the surrounding marine community. In reality, the plant's operation had devastated marine ecosystems for miles up and down the coast and was responsible for the near obliteration of already threatened black and red abalone populations in the area.
Finally threatened with legal action by regulators, PG&E nevertheless managed to undermine the state's cease-and-desist order by promising to outspend the authorities on legal appeals, effectively tying up any lawsuit in litigation for years. State authorities backed down from stopping the damaging thermal discharge and agreed to a settlement that includes a cash amount of just $4.5 million and other half-measures that will allow the PG&E and Diablo Canyon to continue its business-as-usual practices to the detriment of the marine environment.
"The nuclear industry plans to roll back environmental protections to create a new bottom line," said Linda Gunter, SECC Communications Director, and one of the report's authors. "The industry cries poverty when asked to install less destructive systems and again when told to mitigate the environmental damage," continued Gunter. "While nuclear utilities advertise themselves as environmentally friendly, in reality they are sacrificing the marine environment and its inhabitants on the altar of company profits."