Press Enterprise Writer

SALEM TWP. — A watchdog group says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shouldn’t give the nuclear plant here permission to increase its power until it looks at the impact on the Susquehanna.
But PPL Susquehanna says another organization is charged with looking after the river, and that the company is looking into the issues.
The electric company is asking permission to increase the power it produces by 205 megawatts, enough to power 195,000 homes.

To do so, it wants permission to increase the amount of water it takes from the Susquehanna every day from 58 million gallons to 66 million gallons, according to the Hazleton Standard-Speaker.

That could cause several problems, said TMI Alert’s Eric Epstein, who filed a request with the NRC for a hearing.
New state and federal laws could tell the plant it’s not allowed to use as much water as it’s requesting, creating a conflict with the NRC permission, he said. Meanwhile, the plant isn’t accurately measuring the amount of water it uses, he said. He also believes PPL should analyze how much more damage an accident could cause if it increases the amount of power it produces.

“We’re not categorically opposed to the increase in capacity,” Epstein said. “But we’d like to see them coordinate water-use issues prior to going down this avenue.”
The commission hasn’t yet ruled on his request.

Water limits
Epstein said the demand for the Susquehanna’s water is increasing with new ethanol plants, growing populations and other users.

Government officials are taking an inventory of water and could cut the amount the plant would be allowed to use in the next year or two, he said.
The NRC shouldn’t approve a plan that wouldn’t meet the new standards, Epstein said.
He said PPL also failed to include in its NRC application plans to deal with possible infestations of Asiatic clams or zebra mussels, or whether the change might hurt efforts to bring shad back up the river.
Lou Ramos, PPL Susquehanna’s spokesman, said PPL is addressing those issues with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a regulatory organization that includes representatives of the federal government as well as New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The NRC is responsible only for giving permission for the steam the plant intends to release, not the water the plant takes in, Ramos said.
“We’re dealing with both agencies to fulfill our social compact and all regulations,” he said.
PPL Susquehanna is using less than half of 1 percent of the river flow now; if its power increase is approved, it will use six-tenths of 1 percent of the river flow, he said.
The power company also keeps a reservoir between New York and Pennsylvania. It can release that water during a drought so that the plant can continue functioning safely, he said.

Intake pipe problem?
Epstein said PPL also failed to tell the NRC about a corroded and fouled intake pipe that prevents the company from accurately measuring the amount of water it takes from the river.
He said PPL revealed the damaged pipe in its application to the river basin commission.
Without knowing how much water is coming in, PPL can’t know if its system is losing water somewhere along the line, he said. It also can’t know the amount of chemicals to add to the water, he said.
In his filing, Epstein said PPL told the river basin commission that it was considering replacing the carbon steel pipe with stainless steel. PPL should resubmit its application to the NRC, addressing corroding and poorly performing pipes, he said.
Ramos said he hadn’t seen any report mentioning a corroded pipe.
“I’m not sure where he’s getting that,” he said.
PPL tests the water as it comes in from the river, as it travels through the nuclear plant, and as it returns to the river, he said.
The company also has wells on site to monitor the water there, he said.

Activist: Analyze danger
Finally, Epstein said, PPL should include the difference in consequences if there was an accident when the plant was producing more electricity.
Increasing the amount of power produced at the plant — and therefore the amount of radioactivity in the reactor core — wouldn’t necessarily make an accident more likely, but it would make the consequences of an accident more serious, he said.
He said it’s as if a bus with a capacity for 20 passengers added more seats and began carrying 25 passengers. While it would be no more likely to crash, more people would be in danger if an accident did occur, he said.
Ramos said there is no additional danger.
The plant’s reactor vessel was designed for more power than it makes now, he said. PPL has been upgrading other equipment so it can handle the extra steam if the plant gets permission to increase production.
“Our track record is extremely conservative and protective of the public,” he said. “We operate the plant safely ... we do everything we should do, and frankly, we do more.”

You can call reporter Susan Schwartz at 752-3646 or e-mail her at Susan.S@pressenterprise.net.