Some environmentalists are urging state officials to hold more public hearings before approving water discharge permits for two nuclear reactors under construction in the Midlands. The group says the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has admitted using bad data when it determined a safe amount of water for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in Fairfield County.
Due to the nature of nuclear energy, 54 million gallons of water will be required each day to cool the superhot reactors. The water will not be contaminated in the process, but it will be heated to 95 degrees when V.C. Summer operators discharge it back into the nearby Broad River roughly 25 miles north of Columbia. Summer currently has an older reactor on-site that was commissioned in 1984.
Conservation groups worry the water, which is used to cool the reactor, will be too warm for the river’s wildlife once it is returned to the river. So far, the Broad has not seen fish kills that have occurred near other reactors, according to Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler. However, he says the risk is still there– and recent droughts may have actually increased it
“You can have cascading effects on an ecosystem just by tinkering with that system a little bit,” Stangler told South Carolina Radio Network, “This is a system that’s already stressed by high temperatures and low water in the summer.” He says it’s critical that the river have enough water to absorb that additional heat.
Pam Greenlaw, a clean water advocate who is also pushing for new hearings, says the state overestimated the amount of water flow required to minimize the effects of a discharge. Officials are required to use the lowest average flow levels during drought conditions to determine the necessary flow. However, research from University of South Carolina statistician John Grego found that DHEC’s numbers were out of date– the average has dropped over the past five years due to a long-term drought. The agency has since revised its requirements– from 807 cubic feet per second to 720. But Grego says he believes that number should be closer to 660 cubic feet per second.
Greenlaw said regulators should hold a new public comment period to give stakeholders a chance to account for the changes. The agency has already held two hearings and a public comment period as the law requires. She has lobbied the city of Columbia to request a new hearing there (the previous two were held in Fairfield County). She says, as the city is located downriver and gets its water from the Broad, its residents should be aware of a possible environmental impact.
“DHEC really needs to look beyond their minimal requirements, because this is an extraordinary facility,” she said.
South Carolina Electric & Gas, which operates the V.C. Summer Station, predicts the first new reactor to be online by 2016. The second is projected to be operational by 2019.