In the Dr. Dolittle children’s books, written by Hugh Lofting, there appears a strange creature called the pushmi-pullyu. It is a gazelle-unicorn cross with two heads (one of each) at opposite ends of its body. Push-pull is its problem.
One might have thought that the lovable creature, featured in two movie versions of the classic series, might have been interred with it inventor. Alas, no. It has been seen around the White House, haunting many of President Obama’s policies — stimulate and cut; withdraw and fight on (Afghanistan); propose and abandon (Guantanamo); and not least the mixed signals he sends on energy, especially nuclear energy.
Obama often endorses nuclear power, but he has frustrated its development in the United States, and wasted $10 billion, by reversing longstanding U.S. policy at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. After exhaustive scientific analysis, and some of the best civil engineering on earth, he came out against Yucca in his presidential campaign. The nuclear waste repository is being abandoned without an alternative site. Not having one makes nuclear a harder sell to the public.
Now there is fear throughout the electric industry that the energy-loving administration is about to deal a body blow to the energy generators.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is about to issue a rule that would force more than 400 hundred electric-generating plants, along with other industrial entities, which use river, bay or ocean water for cooling, to abandon decades-old practices and build expensive, unsightly cooling towers. The nuclear operators, in particular, feel vulnerable because environmentalists often attack nuclear power in roundabout ways.
The legal challenge to using river and bay water goes back to the Clean Water Act of 1972, as amended, which, in the event of industrial use of water for cooling demands the use of “best available technology” to reduce the impact marine life, especially fish.
EPA is on the threshold, somewhat delayed, of publishing new regulations which it is believed will force nuclear power plants using once-through cooling to abandon it and install cooling towers. Pressure on the agency to revisit the seemingly settled, once-through practice in plants has come as a result of pressure from the Waterkeeper Alliance, Riverkeeper and other water-use advocacy groups.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group for nuclear power, it would cost $95 billion to build all the requested cooling towers.
Nuclear groups feel they are most vulnerable because of the longstanding opposition to nuclear power by many environmental groups. If the economics of the times preclude backfitting many cooling towers, the threat that new plants will be forced backward is very real.
But some observers believe that the defenders of waterways may be hoisted this time on their own petard.
Cooling towers are those giant structures of the kind shown around the world at the time of the Three Mile Island accident. They are also employed by other power plants, mostly coal-burners. And they are very old technology.
Over the decades, the engineering of water intakes has evolved from a simple, large pipe with a screen on it to complex layers of baffles and other devices to keep fish in the main stream of a river and away from away from the intakes. Other devices involve lights, music, and a conveyor which returns the fish to their habitat in buckets on a wheel. Another solution is to sink wells under the surface of the water, pumping only water which has been screened naturally by the bottom of the waterway and is free of fish and most microbial life.
In short “best available technology” may now be at the intake, not in the towers which embody technology dating from the 1920s.
Also, towers present an environmental problem. In their vapor clouds they distribute all the impurities that might be in the water, including heavy concentrations of salt. At the Indian Point nuclear plant on the Hudson River in New York, the plumes the proposed cooling towers will contain some sea salt and river impurities, the operators claim. Worse the operators claim, the visual impact on the beautiful Hudson Valley will be unacceptable.
There is an irony here: For a long time, the cry “not in my backyard” belonged to the environmentalists. Now it can be heard from local communities, like Buchanan, near the Indian Point nuclear plant.
The worm may be turning; but nonetheless, the utilities fear EPA and the years of litigation and expense which is at hand. – For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate