Nuclear Reactor Cooling Systems Devastate Marine Life and Ecosystems

"José A. Speroni" jsperoni at
Thu Mar 8 08:22:00 EST 2001

   The following was provided by the Safe Energy Communications Council.

   LICENSED TO KILL: How the nuclear power industry destroys endangered
   wildlife and ocean habitat to save money. New Report Shows Once-Through
   Nuclear Reactor Cooling Systems Devastate Marine Life and Ecosystems:

   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 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, 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."

   This report done in collaboration with Nuclear Information and Resource
   Service (NIRS), Safe Energy Communication Council (SECC), Standing for
   Truth About Radiation (STAR) and Humane Society of the United
   States (HSUS).

   To see the report's Executive Summary:

Jose A. Speroni, Med.Vet.       E-mail: jsperoni at
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gratefully acknowledges the support received from:

Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag (Germany),  Mantella Publishing (UK)
Research Information Systems, Inc. (USA),  Reptilia (Spain)
Clark Development Company, Inc. (USA),  FTP Software, Inc. (USA)
Key Tronic Corporation (USA),  Colorado Memory Systems, Inc. (USA)
"Many feel that Gary Kildall, the inventor, should have received the 
dollars and kudos that went to Bill Gates, the merchandiser." CS, Nov. 1994

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