How Nuclear Kills Fish New Jersey and New York now require nuclear plants to install modern cooling systems to prevent the deaths of billions of fish each year

The environmental agencies of New Jersey and New York now require their largest water users—nuclear plants—to either install modern cooling systems in order to prevent the deaths of billions of fish each year, or to cease operations.

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New York’s Indian Point power plant. Credit: Tony Fischer, FlickrCC

The environmental agencies of New Jersey and New York now require their largest water users—nuclear plants—to either install modern cooling systems and thereby prevent billions of fish from dying each year, or to cease operations. They are the only states seeking to force power plants to comply with the Clean Water Act. Of particular concern are Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey—the oldest nuclear plant in the nation, and one that leaked radioactive tritium in 2009—and Indian Point power plant in New York. Oyster Creek has a similar design to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant which suffered leaks, explosions, and melting fuel rods following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. One of Indian Point’s reactors, meanwhile, sits atop a fault line.

The environmental agencies of New Jersey and New York now require their largest water users—nuclear plants—to either install modern cooling systems and thereby prevent billions of fish from dying each year, or to cease operations. They are the only states seeking to force power plants to comply with the Clean Water Act. Of particular concern are Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey—the oldest nuclear plant in the nation, and one that leaked radioactive tritium in 2009—and Indian Point power plant in New York. Oyster Creek has a similar design to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant which suffered leaks, explosions, and melting fuel rods following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. One of Indian Point’s reactors, meanwhile, sits atop a fault line.

These aging plants have a devastating impact on surrounding fish populations. Environmental analysts in the two states have found that these facilities kill more than 17 billion fish annually in New York and another nine billion in New Jersey. Affected species include the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon which returns to the Hudson River each year to spawn, and sea turtles which are sucked into the cooling systems at Oyster Creek and the Salem Nuclear Generating Station

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) found that the “once-through cooling systems” are vacuuming up trillions of newly hatched fish and destroying them in their heat exchangers. The NMFS challenged the finding by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that the damage to the aquatic environment is “moderate” and asserted that there is “strong evidence” that the decline in fish stocks along the entire northeast Atlantic seaboard is due more to the destruction of baby fish than to overfishing of adults by commercial fleets. The Indian Point plant on the Hudson River, which sucks in 2.5 billion gallons of water daily, kills about 2 billion juvenile and mature fish a year in its screens or in the thermal plume. But the NRC estimates that more than 300 billion baby fish are killed each year when they are sucked into its 40-foot-wide intake pipes.