Siphoning water from the Savannah River to operate cooling towers for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle has drawn stiff opposition from at least 10 environmental protection groups.
Southern Nuclear Operating Co. has applied for a permit to withdraw up to 74 million gallons of water daily from an intake site on the Savannah near Waynesboro, Ga., for units 3 and 4 now under construction.
The water, except that lost to evaporation, would be returned to the river through a discharge system regulated by the Clean Water Act.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is holding a public hearing tonight after receiving numerous written comments from environmental groups at odds with the proposal. The groups say such a withdrawal would cause additional negative impact to the river currently under evaluation for low dissolved oxygen levels that threaten the ecosystem.
Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Kurt Ebersbach said nuclear power plants Vogtle and McIntosh already draw large amounts of water from the Savannah, which has several other major industrial facilities on its banks.
“We are talking about a very stressed river already,” Ebersbach said. “All those uses combine to affect the overall health of the river, especially dissolved oxygen.”
As part of its request, Southern Nuclear agreed to offset oxygen loss by constructing a special system near the Savannah harbor that pumps oxygen into the water. The system, called a “Speece Cone” or an oxygen bubbler, was also proposed during negotiations to deepen the Savannah port.
Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said the company understands the importance of the river and welcomes public comment.
“Water is a valuable resource but (the requested amount) is a small percentage of the flow of the Savannah River,” he said.
Georgia Power officials say proposed withdrawal amount is approximately one percent of the river’s daily water flow.
Sara Barczak, the program director for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division should delay the Vogtle application until settling issues with dissolved oxygen levels in the Savannah.
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control also wrote comments to Georgia EPD taking issue with the permit application. A drought contingency plan based on a new analysis by the U.S. Corps of Engineers at Thurmond Lake is lacking in the proposal, DHEC wrote.
Additionally, DHEC said the permit should require that Southern Nuclear monitor the effectiveness of the oxygen injection system and have a back-up plan if the system does not produce the expected results.