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Fighting to Stop Indian Point’s Slaughter of Hudson River Fish

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For nearly 40 years, Riverkeeper has argued that Indian Point’s slaughter of fish and other river life – more than 1 billion organisms a year – is illegal. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011, Riverkeeper has argued that the aging and poorly maintained plant, sitting just 35 miles from Midtown Manhattan and in the most densely populated region of any U.S. nuclear plant, is too dangerous to remain open. Now, as Entergy seeks permission to relicense Indian Point for another 20 years, Riverkeeper is putting its arguments to the test in historic hearings taking place on both the state and federal level. The arguments are complex, but the goal is simple: Close Indian Point.

In addition to the human health, safety and environmental issues associated with radiological contamination and releases, Indian Point violates the Clean Water Act and has devastating effects on the ecology of the Hudson River. In Clean Water Act hearings before a Department of Environmental Conservation administrative law judge in Albany, Riverkeeper is arguing alongside the DEC that several factors make Indian Point’s use of water illegal: It leaks radioactive water, discharges heated water that damages river life, and its ineffective cooling water-intake screens do too little to stop the slaughter of more than a billion fish and other river organisms every year. Entergy, in keeping with a tradition of running its plant on the cheap, playing games with science and using our river to subsidize its profits, wants to install massive cage-like structures (cylindrical wedge-wire screens) throughout the Hudson in an unproven effort to reduce its massive fish kills, rather than invest in proven closed-cycle cooling technology to stop the slaughter.

Below is Riverkeeper attorney Mark Lucas’s opening statement in the hearings on Entergy’s proposal to use cylindrical wedge-wire screens to comply with water quality laws:

“Thank you, Your Honor. I’ll try to be brief because we believe this case is about an analysis rather than characterization. Hudson River is the resource at issue. We consider it to be an ecological marvel and a public trust resource. The facility at issue [Indian Point] has been contributing to adverse environmental impacts, and in fact, conclusively found to be causing adverse environmental impacts by way of entrainment [being sucked into the plant along with cooling water, and killed]. The facility at issue indisputably leaks radioactive matter into the groundwater and into the Hudson. The facility’s unabated thermal discharge [heated water] impacts the natural habitat resulting in degradation of the resource and the aquatic biota, including threatened and endangered species.

“Entergy, we respectfully submit, resolutely refuses to address any of these impacts, and insists that it must be allowed to continue to externalize [pass along to the public] its longstanding and ever exacerbating harms upon the Hudson River’s resources.

“Fortunately, Your Honors, the Clean Water Act requires otherwise. And also fortunately, the science invariably supports the conclusion that the facility cannot operate in the manner Entergy proposes without violating the Clean Water Act and stricter state laws.

Separate and independent Clean Water Act requirements of Section 401 and 402 mandate compliance with technology and water quality based effluent limitations, numerical and narrative criteria, anti-degradation and designated uses.

“For us, Your Honor, that makes this a simple case. Winston Churchill once observed that immense simplicities can emerge from intense complexities. We believe that’s the case here.
If we rely on the sound science and if we adhere to the well-established legal standards, we believe that will inform the Tribunal’s analysis and render the decision making process far simpler, far simpler than Entergy’s suggested approach.

“Rather than discounting losses with legally and scientifically unsupported approaches, such as age-one equivalence and population level impacts [ways to measure Hudson River fish killed by Indian Point which reduce the number of losses], this Tribunal need only consider, and we would respectfully submit is required to consider, the total number of organisms lost to entrainment.

“Rather than espouse theories that larval avoidance plays a primary role in cylindrical wedge-wire screen entrainment reductions, this Tribunal need only look to the established body of scientific knowledge to understand that the efficacy of cylindrical wedge-wire screens under these circumstances, and at the slot size proposed, is limited.

“And rather than discounting the efficacy of closed-cycle cooling based on a schedule provided in part by Entergy’s counsel, this Tribunal should assess the efficacy comparisons of the technology, mindful of the requirement, the Clean Water Act requirement, for interim compliance measures in the form of compliance schedules.

“And I’m happy to finish with that point, Your Honor.”

The next act in this drama will start in a few months, when Riverkeeper takes its fight to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, arguing that it’s time to close Indian Point, not relicense it for another 20 years.

Please contribute to Riverkeeper’s Close Indian Point campaign.

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