Suffolk Closeup: Deadly millstone around our neck?


Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman is seeking to get county government to commission a study on the heating of waters of the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary by the two Millstone nuclear power plants in Connecticut. The facilities are just 18 miles across the Sound from the Island.

Times Review Newsgroup has covered the story (see the Reporter, November 27, 2014, “Nuclear plant under scrutiny”). Mr. Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district includes the Island, is continuing to keep the pressure on.

A former science teacher with certifications to teach chemistry, biology, physics and general science, Mr. Schneiderman notes the massive amounts of water sucked in from the Sound by the Millstone nuclear plants. Massive as in two billion gallons of water moving in and then being discharged daily. “Three times the volume of the water going over Niagara Falls each day,” Mr. Schneiderman said, “comes out 20 degrees warmer than when taken in.”

Mr. Schneiderman has written to Dr. Larry Swanson, associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, saying he’s “interested in having your team … assist in researching the thermal effects on the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary of the current method of cooling used at the Millstone Nuclear Power Facility.”

“Nuclear power facilities typically generate three times more heat than is necessary to produce electricity,” Mr. Schneiderman continued. “Therefore, the nuclear reactor must be cooled and the excess heat discarded as a byproduct.”

Since coming on line, the Millstone plants, in Waterford, just west of New London, have been “employing a method of cooling” via a “once-through cooling system.”

The result has been, he said, a substantial jump in the summer temperature of the Sound, from 66.9 degrees in the 1970s, when the plants began operating, to 68.7 in recent years. “This suggests a two-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase over just 30 years of plant operation,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Global warming data suggests only a 0.3 Fahrenheit temperature increase over the same period. This data indicates that the Long Island Sound is heating up at six times the rate anticipated by global warming.”

Moreover, this is “not the only indicator of the warming trend within the Long Island Sound,” he went on. There have been many species of marine life “declining in abundance over the last two decades.” These include winter flounder, Atlantic herring, skate and lobster, among others.

Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences has put together a study plan following Mr. Schneiderman’s request. It is to be considered by the Suffolk Legislature and the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone.

The situation at Millstone isn’t unique. In Vermont, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has just been closed because of the issue of warm water discharged into the Connecticut River damaging marine life. The technical name for this is thermal pollution. As the Connecticut River Watershed Council stated last year, it “took a long time” but finally a new, stricter water discharge permit was issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to that plant’s owner, Entergy.

“The discharge of hot water like that of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant poses a serious threat to river ecology,” the council said.
Similarly, the announced early closure in 2019 of Excelon’s Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey is tied to the thermal pollution it has been causing to Barnegat Bay.

Thermal pollution and its impact on the Hudson River is a key issue in the battle environmentalists and New York State government are now involved in regarding Entergy’s two Indian Point nuclear power plants just north of New York City.

Nuclear power plants must comply with the federal Clean Water Act which discourages the use of “once-through” cooling systems.

Alternatives include cooling towers — the looming towers appear, for example, in photos of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant site along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania — and also the cheaper “mechanical draft” systems, giant versions of car radiators.

In the Vermont Yankee and Oyster Creek cases, their owners didn’t want to spend the money on either “closed” system.

Mr. Schneiderman said the “thermal effects of Millstone” and problems regarding area marine life has caused him to believe “it’s time we looked into this.”