Hartford Courant

Testimony Begins In Fishermen's Case Against NU

Hartford Courant
April 14, 1999

In a trial that could delay the restart of the Millstone 2 nuclear power plant, a Stonington fisherman said Tuesday that he would be thrown in jail if he killed as many baby flounder as the plant has been allowed to destroy each year.

``They're killing them right from the start. We don't even get a shot at them,'' said Al Maderia, a lifelong fisherman who operates a 55-foot boat.

``I had no idea that that much damage was being done by Millstone,'' he said on the opening day of a trial that pits the Long Island fish-conservation group, Fish Unlimited, against Northeast Utilities.

Maderia testified in a Hartford courtroom in favor of Fish Unlimited's request for a court order to prevent the restart of the Northeast Utilities plant at least until after the height of the winter flounder spawning season, which runs from about April 1 to June 15.

NU, meanhile, today is expected to ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to restart the plant next week, after being forced to keep it shut for three years because of safety concerns.

Each year, tens of millions of newly hatched flounder - larvae no bigger than a tiny thread - have been destroyed after being sucked into the plant along with the cooling water drawn from Niantic Bay.

NU, which has yet to call its witnesses in the case, says the plant's effect on the flounder population is minimal, while the fish-conservation group, backed by Maderia and other members of the Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen's Association, say it is significant.

State Department of Environmental Protection biologists say Millstone's effect on the Niantic River winter flounder population is substantial. But they blame overfishing for depletion of the overall stock of winter flounder in New England waters.

Michael Harder, a DEP director of permitting and enforcement who is involved in oversight of NU's compliance with clean-water laws, is to resume his testimony - which barely got under way late Tuesday - today at 10 a.m.

Beyond its immediate concern for the spawning season, Fish Unlimited seeks an order from Superior Court Judge Robert Hale to require NU to build a closed-loop cooling system - a cooling tower - instead of the once-through cooling-water system originally built at the plant.

Under normal conditions, most larvae do not survive to adulthood. Still the millions of larvae destroyed in the nuclear plant represent thousands of fish, fish Maderia says once were found in abundance in the waters off Millstone. He said the area now is not worth fishing because there are so few winter flounder.

Under cross-examination by NU's attorney, Maderia acknowledged that he was not an expert in fish populations.

Fish Unlimited also wants the judge to require the installation of a fish-return system that would reduce the number of fish killed when they smack into metal screens that cover the water-intake pipes. Millstone 3, which is operating, has such a system, and both sides agree it has dramatically reduced fish kills. Millstone 2 does not have a fish-return system.

Lee Olivier, NU's chief nuclear officer at Millstone station, said under questioning by the fish group's attorney that the company plans no changes at the plant before restart to minimize the loss of flounder larvae or the deaths of fish that get caught on screens that cover the cooling-water intake pipes.

Under questioning by NU's attorney, Olivier defended the plant's operation as having a minimal effect on the environment, and said the cooling-water system at Millstone 2 ``is the best technology available based on a cost- benefit analysis.''