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Billions and Billions of Fish

fish-school A number of environmental groups have put together a petition to close down New Jersey’s Salem nuclear plant. Norm Cohen of the Stop the Salem Nuke Fish Slaughter Campaign appears to be the mastermind here and he’s pretty convinced that fish are being killed by the plant. How many fish? A whole lot:

Salem kills over 3 billion Delaware River fish a year, with changed technology they could reduce their fish kills by as much as, or even more than, 95%.

By which he means cooling towers. Not being able to erect mandated cooling towers factored into a decision to shutter Oyster Creek early and Cohen rather disingenuously hides behind cooling towers to shut Salem. Why do I think that?

With the Oyster Creek decision to shut down in 2019 now a done deal, officially sanctioned by the NRC, it is time to focus on Salem Units 1 and 2, and their continued slaughter of billions of fish and other aquatic life because of PSEG's refusal to invest in a closed cooling system (cooling towers) for their two aging nuclear plants.

Now, let’s set aside for a moment the notion of one power plant killing 3 billion of anything in a 365 day period – that about 8.2 million fish a day. Just the practical considerations – not to mention the smell – would be overwhelming. But surely the plant must be doing some notable damage to the aquatic population. That must be true, right?

Not true:

“Available data on the composition of the finfish community in the vicinity of Salem from 1970 through 2004 were analyzed using widely-accepted techniques for measuring species richness . . . and species density . . . This analysis showed that finfish species richness in the vicinity of Salem has not changed since the startup of Salem, and that finfish species density has increased.

Finfish means actual fish. We also often call things like jellyfish and cuttlefish fish, but they are not. There’s more:

During trawl surveys conducted from 1999 through 2004, 27 additional finfish species were collected that had not previously been collected during PSEG’s field surveys.

I wouldn’t credit the plant for that, but it’s not chasing them away or killing them en masse, either, is it?

This study was done by PSEG for the New Jersey Pollutant Discharge Elimination System as part of the plant’s renewal process. It would be wrong to say that fish are not killed through the process of drawing water into Salem – whether it has cooling towers or not – but a lot of effort goes into mitigating that harm and clearly the study shows that Salem has done a terrific job and the population abundance has not been impacted

Those who to close a plant should find some legitimate grounds on which to do it first.


The New York Times has an article called U.S. Pushes, But Reactors Lagging. Matthew Wald does a fairly judicious job reporting the story, though there are not so many threads to really make a compelling case. But – okay.

The one line that stuck out was this one:

But some obstacles are specific to the nuclear industry, like the ballooning cost estimates for construction of reactors, which are massive in scale.

Reactors are certainly expensive, but costs are going up all over. Consider:

Among the sample of projects built in 2009, for example, the capacity-weighted average installed cost was $2,120/kW. This average increased by $170/kW (9%) from the weighted-average cost of $1,950/kW for projects installed in 2008, and increased by $820/kW (63%) from the average cost of projects installed from 2001 through 2004.

A 63 percent increase in half a decade is pretty impressive. Gas? Coal? Let’s give it away:

Since hitting a low point of roughly $700/kW in the 2000-2002 timeframe, average wind turbine prices have increased by approximately $800/kW (>100%) through 2009.

Greater than a 100 percent increase! No ding on wind intended here nor even on Wald. But really, cost increases are not a problem “specific to the nuclear industry.”


Guess who’s blogging? Yes, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has taken the plunge. Chairman Gregory Jaczko explains it all:

Staff from throughout the NRC will be posting regularly on the blog, addressing a variety of topics. Just to be clear, the blog is not replacing our usual modes of communicating with and getting feedback from the public. Instead, it is an additional way of communicating with you.

I hope it uses this opportunity to, among other things, shine a light on the world of regulation, which is exceptionally intimidating to many people. It’s a big subject and who better than the NRC staff to explain it?

Not much there yet, but give it time. Early days.


Jeff Schmidt said…
Anyone have links to any resource which explains how the nuclear plants are killing the fish? I mean, what is the specific details of how they are killed? Is it that they get sucked in with the cooling water and get boiled to death in the plant? I would think there'd be some kind of screens or grates that prevent them from being sucked in?

Is it that the water coming out of the plant is too warm, and is causing the nearby river water to becomem de-oxygenated so the fish suffocate, or what?

Isn't there any cheaper means of mitigating the damage than building cooling towers?

The author of this article disputes their figures on the amount of fish killed - are there any actual studies by reputable marine scientists or government agencies, which could give some real figures, instead of a sort of 'he said/she said' argument?

What about coal/gas plants - they aren't so different from nuclear plants - are their any coal or gas plants which similarly suck in water from the rivers or oceans using similar systems, and are any of these groups targeting similarly designed coal (and/or Natural Gas) plants, or are they singling out nuclear for special treatment?
David Bradish said…
Mark's link to the water reports isn't quite working. Here's the link to our summary of four aquatic life studies at nuclear plants. The studies are referenced and conducted by qualified organizations.

Requiring cooling towers for all existing nuclear, coal, and gas plants with once-through cooling because of supposedly large fish kills is one of the the main focuses of EPA. Much of the electric sector is pushing back on this as the data shows there are other, better, cheaper ways to maintain the fish population than build towers.
gmax137 said…
@Jeff - a couple of answers from a non-expert (based on reading I di during the same flap at Indian Point not too long ago).

If I recall correctly the 'killing mechanism' that accounts for numbers in the billions is that the fish larva get sucked through the condenser and killed - apparently they are small enough to pass through the traveling screens. This likely explains the absence of the stink referred to in the NEI post (ie, it's billions of organisms, but they are really really tiny organisms).

Regarding gas turbine units, I think most of these discharge the waste heat as hot air into the atmosphere - there is no condenser to cool with water.
Karl Ostenhoven said…
This is very serious busines here.

If indeed there are 27 new fish species near the plant, it seems clear that radiation from the plant is spurring evolution via mutational changes in fish genomes.

If such rapid evolution is taking place in fish that do not even work in the plant, it will surely eventually take place in the humans who do work in the plant.

27 new species of humans is nothing to laugh at. At least you can eat the new fish species as long as they are not radioactive.

What can you do with new species of humans? You'll probably even have to give them the vote as well as health insurance!

Oh, those hidden costs of nuclear power are getting to be too much.
Anonymous said…
@Jeff - yes, Nukes have screens/strainers/etc to keep out fish. Some fish are so small that they get through - and can be "chewed up" in the process. Most plants suck so low from the body of water that very little marine life exists at those low points. For plants without cooling towers, the difference in temperature of the water entering the plant vs. leaving the plant is nil. One millions gallons of water per minute provides exceptional cooling without taking a massive heat load with it.

@Karl - If you stood at the fence of a nuclear plant, 24/7 for one year, you would receive 1 millirem of radiation. You receive approximately 600 millirem per year from the sun - which doesn't include vacationing on the beach. You receive 300 millirem every time you go to the dentist and get your jaw x-rayed. Radiation has nothing to do with the fish in a nearby body of water.

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