New London Day News


Millstone Nuclear Power Plant - (9823 bytes)
Jacquie Glassenberg / The Day
Aerial view of the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant complex in Waterford

NU challenges lawsuit that would block restart of Millstone 2

By CHRISTINE WOODSIDE
and PAUL CHOINIERE
Day Staff Writers

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Lawyers for Northeast Utilities fought Monday to dismiss an environmental group’s attempt to block the restart of Millstone 2, even as the Waterford nuclear plant’s operators readied to heat up the unit.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Norris L. O’Neill said he would rule in a few days on the utility’s motion to dismiss the group’s lawsuit.

O’Neill ruled that two state Department of Environmental Protection employees, a fisheries biologist and the head of the DEP water bureau’s permitting and enforcement division did not have to testify at this point in the case.

An attorney for the DEP said state scientists should not be expert witnesses in court cases. He said that biologist Penny Howell lost a day’s work to sit in court.

The DEP has concluded that the power plant has reduced the population of winter flounder, formerly an abundant species, by 14 percent. The utility has insisted the reduction is far less, 6 percent.

"The fish population is at serious risk in this area, largely due to the operation of Millstone’s intake structures," said Nancy Burton, a New Haven attorney who represents Long Island-based Fish Unlimited, which joined other environmental groups this month in suing to prevent the restart of Millstone 2.

Burton argued that there is much evidence that the plant has contributed to the well-documented depletion of the flounder population. The plant sucks in billions of gallons of water each day from the mouth of the Niantic River and then discharges it into Long Island Sound.

But Elizabeth C. Barton, representing Northeast Utilities, argued that the environmental groups were wrong to make this case in court when they could have complained to the agency in charge of water pollution — the DEP.

Barton said it’s clear that the DEP is watching Millstone’s use of water because it has continued to allow the plant to discharge heated water and water with trace amounts of radiation and other chemicals.

Millstone’s permit to use and discharge water expired at the end of 1997, but the plant has been allowed to continue using water while a new permit is being negotiated. It operates under several "emergency authorizations" right now. Some of those cover discharges the old permit didn’t allow.

While the court fight intensifies, operators will begin heating up Millstone 2 today for the first time in three years.

Northeast Utilities announced Monday that at around noon the plant’s reactor coolant system will be heated to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit, a major step toward returning the plant to service.

Millstone 2 was forced to shut down in March 1996 because of operational problems, procedural mistakes and regulatory violations. Millstone 3 was shut down that same month, joining Millstone 1, which had ceased operating four months earlier. All three plants were prohibited from returning to service without approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Since then technicians and engineers have been kept busy updating rules and procedures, correcting design flaws and analyzing systems throughout the plants. In July, with the NRC’s permission, NU returned to service the largest plant, Millstone 3. That same month the company announced Millstone 1 would remain closed forever.

Now the company is moving closer to bringing Millstone 2 back into service and ending the $14 million in monthly losses the company has suffered since last May. At that time, the state Department of Public Utility Control ruled that the company could no longer pass along to its customers the cost of maintaining Millstone 2. Regulators concluded the unit was no longer a functioning power plant.

Today’s expected heat up will allow NRC inspectors to begin their final review of the reactor before the commission acts. Then on April 14 the five-member NRC will meet to discuss whether the reactor should be allowed to restart.

Millstone 2 operators cannot take the reactor critical and start splitting atoms to produce electricity until the commission gives its approval, probably a couple of days after the April 14 meeting. Reactor coolant pumps will be started to achieve today’s heat up. Residents can expect to begin seeing steam in the air above the unit. The sound of steam rushing from vent valves can be expected.

In about a week the plant is expected to reach normal operating pressure and temperature, about 500 degrees, the last step before the reactor is brought back on line.

The water circulating through the reactor does not boil because it is kept under extreme pressure.

According to the company, noise will occur intermittently throughout the next several weeks as technicians and engineers conduct the final testing needed before plant startup. No radioactive releases are planned. The company will field questions about the restart at 447-1791, extension 4497.

To send an e-mail to Christine Woodside, write to C.Woodside@newlondonday.com.