US cooling water rules announced

20 May 2014

Regulations to protect fish and other aquatic life drawn into cooling water systems at large power plants and factories have been announced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The final rule is required by the Clean Water Act and follows a settlement agreement with environmental groups whereby the EPA agreed to issue regulations to reduce injury and death of aquatic life caused by cooling water intake structures at power plants and other industrial facilities.

New requirements

There are three components to the final regulation.

Firstly, existing facilities that withdraw at least 25% of their water from an adjacent waterbody exclusively for cooling purposes and have a design intake flow of greater than 2 million gallons (7.6 million litres) per day are required to reduce the number of fish killed by being pinned against intake screens or other parts of the facility (impingement). The EPA said that plant operators will be able to select one of seven technology options in order to achieve this. A proposed version of the ruling, released in 2011, called for a specified limit on fish impingement to be set.

Secondly, existing facilities that withdraw very large amounts of water - over 125 million gallons (470 million litres) per day - are required to conduct studies to help their permitting authority determine whether and what site-specific controls, if any, would be required to reduce the number of aquatic organisms sucked into cooling water systems (entrainment). These studies will include public input.

Thirdly, new units that add electrical generating capacity at an existing facility are required to reduce the intake flow to a level similar to a closed cycle, recirculation system. Closed cycle systems are the most effective at reducing entrainment, according to the EPA.

The EPA said that the new regulation "establishes a common sense framework, putting a premium on public input and flexibility for facilities to comply." It said that the ruling "establishes a strong baseline approach that ensures the best technology available is used. It puts implementation analysis in the hands of the permit writer so requirements can be tailored to the particular facility."

The rule covers 521 industrial facilities and 544 power plants. The EPA noted, "The technologies required under the rule are well-understood, have been in use for several decades, and are in use at over 40% of facilities."

The agency said that it expects the final rule will have "relatively minor economic impacts" on the electric power industry. Under the regulations for existing facilities, it estimates that 86% of electric generators will incur compliance costs of less than 1% of revenue.

The EPA's acting assistant administrator for water Nancy Stoner said, "EPA is making it clear that if you have cooling water intakes you have to look at the impact on aquatic life in local waterways and take steps to minimize that impact."

Industry response

Electricity industry groups said they were reviewing the new regulations and assessing their impacts.

Edison Electric Institute president Tom Kuhn said, "Based upon our initial review of the rule, we are pleased that EPA has avoided imposing a categorical one-size-fits-all approach to compliance; has embraced significant elements of flexibility; and has acknowledged the importance of weighing costs with environmental protection." However, he added, "We remain concerned that the rule will not provide states with sufficient flexibility to regulate cooling water impacts cost-effectively on a case-by-case basis."

Richard Myers, vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said, "To be considered acceptable to the nuclear energy industry, which is committed to safe operations and environmental stewardship, the rule must have these attributes: sufficient flexibility to accommodate the diversity of ecosystems at a variety of power plant sites; recognition that cost-benefit analysis is essential to prevent consumers from incurring significant increases in electricity cost with little, if any, environmental benefit; and, recognition of the importance of reliable electricity supplies to regional and national standards of living and economic productivity."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Regulation, USA