BUCHANAN, N.Y. - Indian Point nuclear power plants' current operations are "likely to adversely affect" but not "jeopardize the continued existence" of two endangered species of Hudson River sturgeon, according to federal environmental regulators.
Entergy officials lauded the study with spokesman Jim Steets saying "people ought to be encouraged that the impacts from Indian Point are relatively small."
Environmental group Riverkeeper pointed out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requested the opinion, likely would have to request another study in the near future depending on the results of administrative law hearings involving Entergy and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
"The bigger issue is that the process itself is irrelevant. Since the DEC denied Indian Point's water permit the entire review was really a waste of time," said Tina Posterli, spokeswoman for Riverkeeper. Riverkeeper is one of several parties involved in litigation against the plants' 20-year license extension.
Officially, the study is a "biological opinion" produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service on the effects of Indian Points' dual reactors on two distinct species of endangered Hudson River sturgeon populations.
Atlantic sturgeon are prehistoric in appearance with spiny plates running down their sides. The fish can grow up to 14 feet long, weigh up to 800 pounds and live up to 40 years. Their smaller relatives, shortnose sturgeon, grow up to about 3 1/2 feet, weigh about 14 pounds and also live for decades.
The protracted legal hearings began in 2010, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation denied Entergy a license necessary to operate. Entergy needs the state-issued "water quality certificate" to use Hudson River water. Currently, about 2.5 billion gallons of Hudson River water pass through Indian Point's cooling system daily.
The hearing will determine which proposal is acceptable to mitigate environmental impacts -- a demand by the state that Entergy install a closed cycle cooling system or a proposal from Entergy to install cylindrical wedge-wire screens on the floor of the Hudson River.
The reactors at Indian Point would be the largest power plants in the nation to utilize the wedge-wire screen technology if Entergy's proposal moves forward. The screens -- essentially large, high-tech strainers on the water intake -- virtually would eliminate fish entrapment by about 75 percent, according to the state, less than its desired target of 90 percent.
The closed cycle cooling systems also would reduce Hudson River water use by between 90-95 percent, according to environmental regulators. That also would minimize the environmental impact on the marine life population, they say.
If Indian Point were to extend its license period and continue operating as it does today, the report found more than an estimated 800 shortnose and Atlantic sturgeon would be caught against the screens used at the plants' intakes.
How many of these fish die after being stuck against intake screens or trash bars is a question unto itself. Death rate estimates cited in the study ranged from 60 to 100 percent. Regulators said "mortality is likely to be high," since Indian Point hasn't had a monitoring program in place since 1990 and has no plans to initiate one in the future.
Much of the fish population data used in the study also is from the 1990s and before.
"The lack of recent monitoring data makes predictions… more difficult," the study's authors wrote.