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Nuclear Energy Institute
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Nuclear Industry Advocates Flexibility on EPA Rule on Water Intake Systems

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Nuclear Energy Institute is encouraging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt a flexible, technology-based requirement to protect marine life as the cornerstone of its final rule implementing a Clean Water Act provision on water intake structures at thermal power plants.

In comments submitted to EPA today on requirements to implement Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act, NEI urged EPA to offer a suite of pre-approved best technologies that allow a power plant or industrial facility to select and apply the one technology most suitable to its location. The 104 reactors that generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity supplies are among thousands of thermal power plants nationwide subject to the agency’s regulatory action.

“A technology-based approach, if adopted for the final rule, will better protect aquatic life at the intake structure, and in a cost-effective manner,” said William Skaff, NEI director of policy analysis. “Doing so will accommodate the environmental, geographic and engineering diversity of electric generating facilities and their distinct water sources and unique fish populations where they are located.”

If a technology is properly implemented and is consistent with accepted “best management practices,” the facility would be deemed in full compliance with the EPA regulations. NEI also is encouraging EPA to treat new power plants the same as existing plants at the same site and make them subject to the same regulatory requirements. Otherwise, state authorities would be constrained to require cooling towers where they already have determined them to be environmentally and socially unacceptable at that ecosystem.

NEI supports an exception to the requirement to install additional technologies for facilities that already have demonstrated and have low impingement or impingement mortality in absolute numbers. Certain facilities experience impingement numbers so low that technologies are not necessary to further protect the environment.

“The technology-based approach also will account for measures the industry already has taken to protect aquatic life and, importantly, protect consumers from a sharp rise in electricity costs with little or no corresponding environmental benefit,” Skaff said.

NEI reiterated concerns acknowledged by EPA that the proposed numeric impingement protection requirements are unsound and unsupported based on outdated and undersized data sets. As a consequence, they fail to support EPA’s assumption that “benefits associated with the proposal justify its costs.”

NEI this week also is submitting comments to EPA on an agency survey that may be used to determine the “benefits” of the rule based on a monetary amount the public says it is willing to pay for fish conservation.

NEI believes the survey should not be used because the results do not represent an accurate measurement of the benefit of the proposed rule due to incomplete and inaccurate information provided to respondents in the survey instrument; flaws in the survey methodology; and the inappropriateness of applying a survey to this rulemaking.

“Most notably survey respondents are instructed that a reduction of aquatic life mortality at a once-through cooling system intake structure will lead to an increase in fish populations when scientific studies demonstrate that such mortality is having no adverse impact on aquatic life at the population level in the first place,” Skaff said. “In fact, fish reproduce at prolific rates and their populations are limited by the food supply of their habitat and not by plant intake structures.”

Methodologies other than stated preference surveys are preferred by experts for such determinations, Skaff said.