Feds: Relatively few fish die if NY nukes continue

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News,Science and Technology

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — The federal fisheries service says the continued operation of two nuclear plants in the New York City suburbs would have an "adverse effect" on two endangered species of sturgeon, but would not come close to wiping them out.

The conclusion appears to help the argument for extending licenses for the Indian Point plants on the Hudson River, although one critic called it wrong and irrelevant.

The National Marine Fisheries Service prepared the document at the request of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is conducting hearings on whether Indian Point's owner, Entergy Nuclear, should get 20-year license extensions. The licenses for Indian Point 2 and 3 expire this year and in 2015, respectively, but the plants are permitted to keep running until a decision is made — and through any appeals.

The 168-page opinion, made public Tuesday by the NRC, says nearly 1,000 shortnose sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon would be killed during the extended lives of the plants, but that would be only a small percentage of the stock.

The deaths, usually caused when fish are caught against water intake screens, are "not likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of either species, the study concludes.

It also found no threat from the warmer water that is discharged back into the river or from any radioactive elements escaping from the plants into the Hudson.

In a cover letter, NMFS regional administrator John Bullard cautioned that the study applies only to the way the Indian Point reactors currently operate, using the screens to block fish from being drawn into the plant with the millions of gallons of river water used for cooling.

New York state is currently insisting that Indian Point switch to closed-cycle cooling, which uses much less water and is safer for fish. For that reason, the study is "a waste of time and resources," said Phillip Musegaas of the environmental group Riverkeeper.

Musegaas believes Indian Point will have to either shut down or switch to closed-cycle cooling, which Entergy is challenging. But even on its face, he says, the report is flawed because there's been no sampling data on sturgeon since the 1990s.

"We believe the science shows Indian Point has a serious impact, especially on Atlantic sturgeon," he said.

A spokeswoman for the regional office of the state Department of Environmental Conservation did not immediately return a call for comment.

Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for New Orleans-based Entergy, said the company is pleased "that NMFS recognizes Indian Point's operation during its license renewal period is not likely to jeopardize sturgeon fish populations."

The study refers to a 1998 estimate of 57,000 adult shortnose sturgeon in the Hudson. It predicts the population "will continue to be stable at high numbers" for the 20-year license extension period.

The numbers of Atlantic sturgeon are believed to be much smaller, and it was recently listed as an endangered species. The study mentions a 2007 estimate of 863 adults in the Hudson, but says most fish killed at Indian Point would be juveniles, and only "a very small percentage" of them.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the document will be considered as the NRC works on a revised environmental impact statement for the license renewals. The impact statement is due by April 30.

Another revised statement, on safety at the plant, is due July 31, and the NRC has asked that hearings on the new licenses be delayed until after then.

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