Hartford Courant

Damage To Fish Worse Than Anticipated, State Says

Hartford Courant
April 15, 1999

The Millstone nuclear power plants on Long Island Sound have done greater damage to winter flounder stocks in nearby waters than anyone anticipated when the plants began operating decades ago, according to an internal state document.

The Department of Environmental Protection memorandum also says that when all three Millstone units were operating from 1986 to 1996, the plants could have depleted the Niantic River winter flounder population by as much as 23 percent a year - an estimate considerably higher than any previous estimate publicly disclosed by Northeast Utilities or the DEP.

The document was entered as evidence Wednesday during a trial that pits a Long Island-based fish- conservation group, Fish Unlimited, against Northeast Utilities, New England's largest electric utility.

The conservation group is asking Hartford Superior Court Judge Robert Hale to order a delay of the restart of NU's Millstone 2 plant until the harm to marine life and the Sound can be reduced.

Fish Unlimited is asking the court to require NU to install a closed-loop cooling-water system - a cooling tower - and a fish-return passageway. It says the changes are needed to reduce radioactive and chemical emissions to the Sound, and to dramatically decrease the loss of newly hatched fish and larger fish destroyed when cooling water is drawn into the plant.

The in-house DEP memo, written Monday to a top DEP official, lists several ways NU could reduce the fish losses, including construction of multimillion-dollar cooling-water and fish-return systems.

Terrence McIntosh, NU's Millstone spokesman, said outside the courtroom that the lawsuit has no merit, and that the DEP agrees that no changes are needed at the plant before it restarts. NU plans to get Millstone back on line next week.

``It's no secret we have offered to seriously look into designing and building a fish-return system. We haven't totally committed to it yet, but we have been willing to look into that,'' McIntosh said.

However, Fish Unlimited's attorney, Nancy Burton, said in an interview that there is plenty of evidence that the DEP should require a closed cooling system and a fish-return system.

``They're filled to the gills with fish studies that have been done for two decades,'' she said. ``Obviously, we wouldn't need to be doing this if the DEP recognized its obligation.''

If Millstone continues to operate the way it has, she said, ``it will drive out the commercial fishing industry in southeastern Connecticut.''

No decisions have been made about what the DEP might require, and the DEP sees no reason to prevent the restart of Millstone 2 before the questions are settled, said Michael Harder, a DEP director in charge of clean-water permits and enforcement, in testimony Wednesday.

He said the DEP advised NU to begin designing a fish-return system such as the one at Millstone 3. It dramatically reduces the loss of fish that smash into the cooling-water intake screens.

But such a system would not reduce the loss of immature young flounder, which are destroyed by the millions when drawn into the plant with the cooling water from Niantic Bay.

The conservation group and NU are using the same DEP documents, NU studies of Millstone's effect on fish, and Harder's testimony to paint different pictures of the DEP's role.

NU is attempting to show that the DEP has for years monitored Millstone and always determined that no new cooling-water systems were needed to protect the environment. The DEP, in NU's view, continues to evaluate the issues and will decide them as part of an NU application to renew its wastewater discharge permit for Millstone.

Fish Unlimited, in contrast, is trying to portray the DEP as working closely with the utility - too closely in the conservation group's view - to accommodate NU and allow it to run the plant without equipment that would minimize harm to fish and the Sound.