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EPA Set to Issue Long-Awaited Power Plant Cooling System Rule

April 16, 2014—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected this week to issue a final rule intended to protect aquatic life near existing power plants and industrial facilities that use water for cooling. EPA has worked through tens of thousands of public comments, multiple revisions and court actions that included a partial review of the rule by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The rule has been controversial because of the challenges in crafting a regulation that does not mandate the use of technologies whose costs are out of proportion to any potential benefit to the environment. Both industry and environmental groups have raised substantial concerns with each version of the rule EPA has published to date.

Most power plants, EPA acknowledges, already have installed fish-protection systems at the cooling water intake structure.

Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act specifies that facilities with cooling system intake structures must take steps to minimize their environmental impact on aquatic life. EPA interprets environmental impact, in this context, as the mortality of fish and other organisms that are either trapped on the screens of the intake structures or drawn into the plants’ cooling systems.



Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told two congressional panels recently that political considerations did not motivate DOE to hand off to the NRC work on the supplemental environmental analysis for the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository. The analysis, along with the NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report (SER), is a fundamental part of the licensing review process for the repository.

U.S. nuclear energy facilities continued operating at high levels of safety and reliability in 2013, according to data monitored by the World Association of Nuclear Operators and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. Key indicators used to track performance against industry goals set for 2015 show that, as a group, the reactors are approaching or already exceeding those goals.

The failure of electricity markets to recognize and accord value to key attributes of nuclear power plants and other baseload generation could have serious implications for the reliability of the nation’s electric power systems, speakers at a congressional hearing said this week.

With many states wrapping up their legislative sessions, three have passed bills to expand the use of nuclear energy in their regions. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a 2014 budget revision that includes funds for a task force to study the costs and environmental benefits of additional nuclear energy in Washington state, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that encourages the development of a new reactor at Dominion’s North Anna nuclear energy facility, and the New Mexico House passed a resolution to assess small reactors.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said this week that building new reactors on time and on budget is vital to the future success of nuclear energy.


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