BRATTLEBORO -- After nearly a decade of analysis, legal and public hearings and backdoor wrangling and pages upon pages of paperwork, the Agency of Natural Resources finally released its draft thermal discharge permit for Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.
And even though the agency concluded that the formula submitted in support of Entergy's 2005 application was inadequate, because the plant will be closing at the end of the year, it will allow the plant to operate under the assumptions of the formula, but with conditions.
"It's been a long slog," said ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz, attributing the delay to changes in federal regulations and legal hearings. "Our technical staff did an excellent job balancing the recognition the plant is closing with a realistic approach to protect water quality."
New conditions of the permit included changes in allowable water temperature increases due to plant discharge in the spring and the fall, she said. The summer limits were not changed, said Markowitz. However, it's unlikely, she said, that the changes will force the plant into closed cycle cooling, utilizing the plant's cooling towers, rather than discharging the water directly into the river.
None of the water discharged into the river is radioactive. It is water that is pulled from the river and used to cool the steam that is generated by the plant's reactor before being returned to the river.
"We are reviewing the draft permit," said Rob Williams, spokesman for Vermont Yankee. "While it is too early to speculate on our position on any of the issues, I can tell you that Vermont Yankee's operation is compliant with the existing (discharge) permit and fully protective of the Connecticut River. We look forward to participating in the public comment process."
The Connecticut River Watershed Council applauded the agency's decision.
"The draft permit upholds the Connecticut River Watershed Council's contention that bad science underwrote the thermal discharge limits in the previous permits," stated a press release issued on Wednesday.
The formula in question is a modeling tool that only predicts but does not measure the actual water temperature and discounts any other source of temperature increase like the effects of sunlight.
"The Agency has concluded that Equation 1.1 is not an adequate method of determining the increase in river temperature above ambient," states a fact sheet released with the draft permit.
"As we have said all along, the Clean Water Act does not allow for a solar discount. The Act requires that thermal discharges be measured fully. Fish don't do math but they know when they are in hot water," said David Deen river steward for CRWC
The draft allows Entergy, which owns and operates the plant, to use the modeling tool through the closure of the plant while also imposing actual temperature caps as compliance triggers.
"Compliance with the temperature caps assures that the facility's thermal discharge will maintain the water body's balanced, indigenous population of shellfish, fish and wildlife," stated the CRWC press release.
Under the old permit, which Yankee has been operating with since 2001, the use of the formula to determine compliance allowed the river to be hotter than the permit limits allowed, at times by as much as 5 to 7 degrees for extended periods of time during critical time periods for migratory fish.
There is a public comment period -- from July 7 to Aug. 7 -- in which interested persons may submit written opinions on the draft permit.
Comments should be mailed to ANR, Department of Environmental Conservation, Watershed Management Division, One National Live Drive, Main-2, Montpelier, VT 05620-3522. They can also be faxed to 802-828-1544 or e-mailed by using the e-mail tool at www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.