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  • Roger Witherspoon

DEC: Billions of Fish Killed

By Roger Witherspoon

July 11, 2003

The Journal News

Power plants destroy smaller species, plant life, state finds in river study

The use of Hudson River water to cool generators at three major power plants is

degrading the river's ecosystem by killing billions of fish and plants each year and

pouring tremendous amounts of hot water into the tidal estuary, according to a new

state environmental analysis.

The analysis, prepared by the state Department of Environmental Conservation,

found that existing systems used to keep aquatic life out of the plants' huge cooling

systems are effective at removing large fish and debris, but "do very little" to stop

smaller fish and plant life from being sucked into the plants and baked to death

during the power generation process.

For five species of fish - American shad, bay anchovy, river herring, striped bass and

white perch - data provided to the state by the three plants found that more than 2

billion were sucked into the cooling systems and at least 1.45 billion died in the

heated water. The state concluded that nearly all the fish that survived the actual

cooling process died shortly after being pumped back into the river.

While the power plants' greatest harm is to the small aquatic life sucked inside the

systems, the state concluded that hot water discarded by the three plants had a

greater impact than previously believed - affecting the entire river at the discharge

site rather than a narrow column of water - and may lead to the wholesale

disappearance of some species.

"Rainbow smelt may be disappearing from some reaches of the Hudson because of

thermal discharges from electric generating stations," the report said. "Such a trend,

if continued, could impact other species."

Officials from the plants disputed the state's conclusions and said their operations

were not harming the river to the degree found in the report.

The analysis is a critical part of the controversial discharge-permit proceedings under

way for the nuclear power plants at Indian Point in Buchanan, the Bowline Point

Steam Electric Generating Station in West Haverstraw and the Roseton Generating

Station in Newburgh. All three sites are required to have state permits in order to

discharge their heated water into the river, but the process has been the subject of a

decade of litigation. The plants could be forced to cease using the river as their

primary cooling source and switch to alternative cooling methods, which energy

officials say would be economically prohibitive.

The plants' effect on the river is due to the enormous volumes of water they use.

Indian Point, Roseton and Bowline are the first-, sixth- and seventh-largest users of

water in the state, respectively, taking in 1.69 trillion gallons annually. That is twice

the volume of water in the entire 153-mile estuary from the Battery in Manhattan to

Troy, and 3.5 times the amount of water used annually by 9 million residents in New

York City, Westchester and Putnam counties. The plants return a total of 220 trillion

BTUs of waste heat to the river, an amount equal to the heat generated by the daily

detonation of a 15-kiloton nuclear bomb - the type that leveled Hiroshima -

approximately every two hours.

"This is an outrage. It's like having a giant Cuisinart for the river," said David

Gordon of the environmental group Riverkeeper. "This is the last major industrial

impact on the river which has gone unabated since the imposition of the Clean Water

Act. They're just killing everything in it."

The plants' discharge permits expired in 1987, but the state DEC has allowed them to

continue operating while it studies the effect of their cooling operations on the river's

environment. In June 2002, in response to a lawsuit filed by Assemblyman Richard

Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, and the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Scenic

Hudson, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Keegan ordered the DEC to complete

the evaluation process and issue a decision on the permit applications by Nov. 14.

"The study proves Indian Point is a mass murderer of the Hudson River," Brodsky

said. "It is disgraceful that we had to go to court to force this to closure. It affects the

economy of the Hudson Valley. It affects the ability of people to enjoy the river and

it is another way that Indian Point is an economic millstone around the neck of the


A spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point, said the

Hudson River ecosystem was healthy despite the huge losses.

"We have been studying the river for 25 years and spent 50 million dollars studying

fish populations in the river," spokesman Jim Steets said, "and we have seen no

impact from our operation on the Hudson River fish populations. The Hudson River

is one of the richest bodies of water in the North Atlantic. It's teeming with fish. So

the impact, based on our studies, is negligible."

Louis Friscoe, a Bowline spokesman, said the plant has been developing more

effective screening systems to keep small aquatic life out of the cooling pool and its

current operations have had little negative effect on the river. "The fish populations

have come back," Friscoe said. "The striped bass populations have increased and you

even have sport fishing that you haven't had in the last 15 to 20 years."

The three plants use a system called "once through" cooling in which water is

drained directly from the river, pumped through heat exchangers to cool the

superheated steam used to turn giant electric generating turbines, then pumped back

into the river at temperatures up to 35 degrees higher than the river's temperature.

The state report rejected the contention by the three plants that the death of billions

of baby plant and animal organisms caused by the nuclear plants was no different

from normal factors that prevent a majority of eggs and seeds from reaching


"The plants are taking tons of living material from the food chain," said Warren

Reiss of Scenic Hudson, "and returning tons of decaying material to the ecosystem.

What should have grown up to be an adult or become food for a number of

organisms so they could grow up is no longer in the food pyramid."

Reach Roger Witherspoon at or 914-696-8566.


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