Millstone News

Millstone Foiled by Its Own Hot Water: Unit 2 Shuts Because of Overheated Long Island Sound

Since 1970, the Millstone N uclear Power Station has continuously pumped a hot water plume of
billions of gallons of water per day into the Long Island Sound through its once-through cooling system.
For the past decade, the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone has advocated for Millstone’s conversion to a closed cooling system which would not release hot water – laced with radioactive waste products and toxic chemicals – into the Long Island Sound but instead cool the reactor from an onsite pool of continuously circulating water.
Dominion and its ally in government, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, have resisted this common-sense, environmentally-protective alternative. Ironically, a 1993 study by Northeast Utilities pronounced such a conversion feasible, and DEP excluded that report from evidence in recent licensing proceedings.
On Sunday, August 12, 2012, Dominion had to shut down Unit 2 and suffer the economic stresses of losing $1 million or more a day in lost profits because a license condition prevented it from operating when the temperature at the intakes exceeds 75 degrees, as it did then. In issuing the Unit 2 license, the NRC had determined that the Unit 2 reactor cannot be safely cooled by water exceeding that temperature.
The prospect is that Unit 2 will remain shut down for weeks, as the Long Island Sound temperature in that vicinity historically peaks in late August. With Sunday’s shutdown, the region experienced above-“routine” releases of radioactivity to the air and water because the reactor is designed to vent and purge during shutdowns.
Millstone 3 is on the edge and may be forced to shut down soon for a long period as well because of the rising temperature of the Long Island Sound.
These shutdowns could have been avoided if Dominion had converted the nuclear facility to a closed cooling system, as it was ordered to do in neighboring Rhode Island at Brayton Point by the U.S. EPA.
As temperatures were rising in July, Dominion squirmed. The Virginia-based company, anticipating such a showdown later in the summer, applied to the NRC for an emergency amendment which would allow it to operate Unit 2 even if the temperature exceeded 75 degrees. Dominion’s engineers played with their numbers and asked if they could sample water from three locations and calculate the average, which would likely be lower. Consistent with its rubber-stamping pattern, the NRC approved the emergency amendment.
The emergency amendment was of no avail on Sunday, however, because even with the new averaging, the temperature was too hot to risk running Unit 2 at full power.
To obtain the license amendment, Dominion had to represent in good faith and candor that it was not responsible for the circumstances and that the circumstances were unavoidable in order to establish an “emergency.”. If Dominion could not make such an honest representation, the NRC would have been legally compelled to order Dominion to shut Unit 2. If Dominion wanted to pursue the amendment on a non-emergency basis, it would have to risk a public hearing and public scrutiny.
Here’s where it helped Dominion to have a kindred spirit in the NRC, which at all costs helps nuclear licensees to avoid shutdowns. Shutdowns make the industry look bad. They drive down the performance stats and they cost the utilities money.
In its analysis of the emergency license amendment, the NRC failed to take into account the fact of Dominion’s continuous release of hot water to the Long Island Sound in a wide thermal plume within the very area from which Millstone draws in its coolant water, particularly at twice-daily times of high tide.
Thus, the NRC did not analyze whether, if Dominion put both Unit 2 and Unit 3 in cold shutdown, the temperature of the incoming coolant would drop to below 75 degrees.
Rather, NRC blithely concluded in its evaluation of the license amendment: “This emergency situation is caused by environmental factors beyond the control of DNC [Dominion Nuclear Connecticut, Inc., Millstone’s corporate owner].”