Advisers: Stick with Water-Cooled Phase-Outs

By Published On: March 20, 2014

Deadlines for shutting down ocean water-cooled power plants or converting them to dry cooling should not be altered—even with the loss of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating station—an advisory board of the State Water Resources Control Board concluded March 17. The Statewide Advisory Committee on Cooling Water Intake Structures noted that many power plants are already slated for revamp or closure. “Some owners of facilities using once-through cooling are retiring them in advance of the compliance dates established by the [state cooling] policy. Others are pursuing infrastructure replacement plans to comply with the policy,” noted the report. Advisers point to expected transmission expansions and upgrades to bolster repowers or help fill possible supply gaps. In May 2010, the Water Board ordered power plant operators to rebuild their cooling systems or close the aging coastal plants altogether over the next several years (Current, May 7, 2010). The board adopted the policy under the federal Clean Water Act to protect marine organisms. Marine life is killed when power plants suck organisms through their cooling systems. Also, heated water the plants discharge impacts aquatic life, which is sensitive to temperature shocks. The report did not mention the facility using the largest amount of coastal water for cooling—Pacific Gas & Electric’s 2,200 MW Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is permitted to use 2.5 billion gallons/day. Nor did it include Los Angeles Department of Water & Power’s water cooled Haines, Scattergood and Harbor facilities. That is because these plants' deadlines for shutting down or converting to dry-cooling are at least a decade away. "We didn't look at them because their compliance dates are so far out," said Shuka Rastegarpour, Water Board environmental scientist. While the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is shut down, it still consumes vast amounts of ocean water to keep radioactive spent fuel cooled. In addition, the committee is in a "quandary" because of a Friends of the Earth review. That report rejected Bechtel's finding that air cooled towers at Diablo were unfeasible, added Rochelle Becker, committee member and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility executive director (Current, Nov. 21, 2013). The water board advisory committee noted the many uncertainties involved in repowering old plants to dry-cooled units. It noted that some extensions may be merited but at this time recommends against changing compliance deadlines. The report’s findings are the subject of a March 27 meeting of the Statewide Advisory Committee in Sacramento. The panel is to review the status of Diablo Canyon’s cooling technologies April 8.

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