The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in the process of renewing Entergy’s NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit. Under the Clean Water Act, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is required to have a NPDES permit to regulate its discharge of pollutants and its intake of seawater from Cape Cod Bay to cool its equipment. Pilgrim’s NPDES permit expired in 1996, and has been “administratively extended” since then, and likely until EPA issues it a new one.

Now the EPA is at a point in the permitting process where they are requesting additional information from Entergy in order to create new informed guidelines for the new permit. One of the EPA’s considerations in the permitting process is requiring its applicants to implement the “best technology available” (BTA) to reduce harm to the environment, according to the Clean Water Act section 316(b). The EPA therefore asked Entergy for information on the feasibility of implementing alternative technologies to reduce fish kills caused by Pilgrim’s Cooling Water Intake Structure (CWIS). (The CWIS regularly kills millions of fish every year, either through entrainment, in which the fish, larvae, or eggs are sucked into the plant, or impingement, where the fish are smashed against the intake screen.)

The EPA received Entergy’s response to the request, and on July 10, 2014, sent a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) asking for consultation on Entergy’s response. In their response, Entergy had concluded “nuclear safety concerns” prevent them from updating their technology to lower fish kills. The EPA is now asking the NRC if these concerns are warranted.

The most effective proposed alternative technology to Pilgrim’s current CWIS would be closed-loop cooling, which requires taking in much less water (and fish) from Cape Cod Bay. However, in Entergy’s response to the EPA’s request for information, which the EPA attached in their letter to the NRC, Entergy cites a Technical Report by Enercon (Engineering Response to United States Environmental Protection Agency CWA 308 Letter—Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, Plymouth, Massachusetts) asserting that closed-loop cooling is not “available” in terms of the BTA rule because it is “not technologically feasible.” This is because, according to Entergy, implementing closed-loop cooling would mean changing the “absolute” operational guidelines and standards of Pilgrim set forth in the 1970s. In addition, “the Station’s net thermal load would have to be reduced to such an extent that nuclear safety concerns would render the Station completely inoperable for at least 242 calendar days in a typical year (based on historic ambient conditions).”

Entergy cites two 316(b) demonstration reports (one from 1975 by Boston Edison, and one from 2000 by Entergy), which found that Pilgrim has absolutely no “adverse environmental impacts” (AEI) as another reason why they should not have to upgrade any of their technologies. Entergy also cites a 2004 EPA assessment of Pilgrim’s CWIS that found that no changes were needed to comply with a new 316(b) rule. In fact, the EPA, in renewing each of Pilgrim’s NPDES permits since 1975, has already implicitly, and in some cases explicitly, determined that Pilgrim’s current CWIS already satisfies section 316(b), which Entergy points out in the letter.

It seems now, based on the July 10, 2014 letter, that the EPA is changing its mind over whether Pilgrim is or is not adversely affecting the environment– enough to break their precedent of automatically okaying Entergy’s CWIS. We at Cape Cod Bay Watch will keep pressuring the EPA and keep working to make sure that our regulators know the facts.

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