Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman is working to fund a study by the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences in hopes of proving that Millstone Nuclear Power Plant is at fault for increasing the water temperature of the Long Island Sound.
Millstone Power Plant is located in Waterford, Conn. Not only does the plant provide electricity to almost half of Connecticut, it is also the largest nuclear facility in New England. Nuclear facilities such as this one often generate more heat than is necessary to produce electricity, up to three times as much, Schneiderman said.
The reactors must be cooled down and as a result, the excess heat is discarded as a byproduct. Millstone uses a method known as “once-through” cooling to cool off its nuclear reactor, according to Schneiderman. The system pumps two billion gallons of water through the plant each day. When the water is released back into Niantic Bay, its temperature increases by 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
At this rate, the water is flowing at three times the rate of Niagara Falls, Schneiderman said. The entire volume of the sound, 18 trillion gallons, has been circulated through the plant twice since the inception of the facility. According to Schneiderman’s calculations based on data provided by the Millstone Environmental Laboratory, the Long Island Sound is heating up at a rate that is six times anticipated global warming rates.
Connecticut lobstermen first caught Schneiderman’s attention when they raised concerns about the dying lobster population. Many cold-water species have been declining over the last two decades including lobster, winter flounder and Atlantic herring. On the other hand, many warm-water species have been increasing in population like striped bass, Atlantic moonfish and summer flounder.
Aside from disrupting the ecosystem, higher water temperatures also alter water column stratification by cutting off oxygen supplies to the bottom waters, thus increasing hypoxia, or the bacterial decay rate of organic matter. Schneiderman reached out to R. Lawrence Swanson, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, for his expertise on these conditions.
“What we want to do is look at the historical data to see if there is any evidence that there are noticeable changes in water temperatures, where those temperature changes are and whether it’s likely that those changes are a consequence of evolving climate, or can they be directly related to the Millstone discharge,” Swanson said in a phone interview.
Scientists have noted the warming of the Sound for many decades. According to the Long Island Sound study, there is approximately $9 billion in economic value within the waters of the sound.
Schneiderman investigated and found more and more clues that pointed across the water. Schneiderman was alarmed to find a report that stated that Millstone’s monitors remained offline more than any other nuclear plant in the United States.
When Schneiderman took a trip to Connecticut to speak with plant officials about the fishy situation (or lack there of), they claimed any heat dispensed into the sound is insignificant. However, an aerial infrared image of the Long Island Sound taken by satellite says otherwise.
Under the Clean Water Act, Millstone must prove that it is not changing the biodiversity of the water body and that the best available technology is being used. Closed loop systems with cooling towers, a multi million-dollar investment, are the proper device, but are not used by the facility, Schneiderman said.
“Even if there are other factors warming the water in the area, can these two federally protected waterways, the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary, handle more heat?” Schneiderman said. “The reason why that’s relevant is because the power plant, under the Clean Water Act, has to get their permit reissued every five years to use the water body as a heat sink ”
The plant’s Clean Water Act permit expires in September 2015. Without research done to show that there are malicious effects by the group, Millstone could renew its license for another five years.
According to Ken Holt, a spokesman of Millstone, the facility has been providing the university with 40 years of research done by the Millstone Environmental Laboratory.
“I know [the state of Connecticut] will be thorough and diligent in their review, and I’m sure they’ll make the right decision,” Holt said.
Schneiderman expressed his concern for finding approximately $79,000 for the study in a phone interview.
“I can’t tell you at this point whether I’ll succeed or not,” he said. “Some legislatures are questioning whether the county ought to be paying for that study, ‘Why isn’t the power plant paying for that study,’ or ‘Why isn’t the federal government paying for that study?’”
On Feb. 28, the Suffolk County Water Quality Review recommended funding for the study.