BRATTLEBORO -- The thermal discharge permit for Vermont's lone nuclear reactor is under fire after claims from the Connecticut River Watershed Council that the permit's equations are "overly simple."
According to the new report, the formula used to determine thermal discharge -- the amount of cooling water from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant that can be dumped back into the Connecticut River -- doesn't account for changes in the river's depth.
Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, said between May and October each year from 2006 through 2010, the river's temperature exceeded Vermont Yankee's permit limit 58 percent of the time.
Fisk said the water level of the Connecticut can be raised or lowered by feet at certain points depending on several dams along the river.
For more than 15 years the nuclear plant has been permitted to raise the temperatures of the river by 13 degrees in the winter months and up to 5 degrees in the summer and fall, instead of utilizing its on-site cooling towers.
The report, put together by Hydro Analysis, a group of scientists who studied the water's temperature and wildlife species, states the thermal plume coming from the plant's outflow affects far more than the half mile of river downstream.
Using data from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and from Vermont Yankee, hydrologists Ken Hickey and Peter Shanahan tracked the impact
"We're really concerned about how the increased temperatures is affecting the fish that spawn here, especially the Atlantic salmon and the American Shad," said David Deen, a member of the council. "These are critical times for the spawning fish."
Each day that the nuclear plant runs at 100 percent, some 543 million gallons of water that was used to cool the reactor can be dumped back into the Connecticut with temperatures as high as 105 degrees, Deen said.
"Fish can't do math but they know when it's hot," he said. "We want the officials at Vermont Yankee to gather the necessary data to prove that their heat rejection rate isn't affecting the wildlife here. We want them to prove their formula ... to be better neighbors."
Since Deen and Fisk started their inquiry into the formula in March, 585 people have joined the fight by signing placards that were supposed to be delivered to Vermont Yankee's headquarters in Brattleboro on Wednesday.
Rob Williams, spokesman for Vermont Yankee, said the report has not been reviewed yet but that, "Vermont Yankee continues to operate in accordance with the discharge permit, which was issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources."
Williams said the permit also was approved by the EPA and an independent reviewer, then confirmed by the Vermont Environmental Court and the Vermont Supreme Court.
"Each of those independent reviewers rejected Deen's position because it wasn't grounded in credible science. Each of the independent reviewers confirmed that VY's thermal discharge is safe for the Connecticut River, particularly its fish population, specifically Atlantic Salmon and American Shad," Williams said.
"We take our responsibility to protect the river very seriously," he said. "We'll certainly take a look at the report."
Deen said that Williams' statement was only partially true.
According to him, the Environmental Court tried a compromise of sorts, changing the requirements of the permit to include some suggestions from VY officials and others from the council. Then the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Court had no place to make such a ruling.
He added that neither court addressed whether the reports where "grounded in credible science."
Jon Groveman, who serves as general counsel for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, said the group is in the process of reviewing Vermont Yankee's permit and will look over the report for consideration before rendering a decision on whether to approve a new or renewed permit.
An environmental advisory committee also is in the process of reviewing the permit for the Agency of Natural Resources and its recommendation on the permit could be made any day.
A local fisherman, Hector Vargas, and his 13-year-old son Emanuel Vargas were getting their poles set up to fish the river Wednesday morning, something the duo has been doing for years.
Lately Hector said he's seen "a lot of dead fish" either floating atop the water or sunk in the river's shallows.
Whether that's because of increased temperatures or not, has yet to be seen.
Deen and Andrews walked up to the corporate offices of Entergy, which owns and operates the Vernon reactor, to hand officials the report and a plate of cookies.
Despite not being seen by anyone from Vermont Yankee for nearly two hours, Deen and Andrews are determined to return and ensure their report is seen.
"We're going to go back and give them our report because we want to talk with them about it," Deen said. "Let's talk, we've got a lot of information to share."
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.