A permit to siphon water from the Savannah River to operate cooling towers for two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle has been issued despite strong opposition from environmental and water protection groups.
Southern Nuclear Operating Co. has permission to draw 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, according to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
More than 250 comments were submitted to the EPD during a public comment period and hearing on the permit proposal. Stakeholders at odds with the proposal largely outnumbered those in favor of it.
Sara Barczak, of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the EPD ignored the public’s concern and rushed to issue the permit even though the first reactor isn’t scheduled to begin producing power for several more years.
“Safeguarding the long-term health of the Savannah River, upon which communities, businesses and two states’ economies rely should take precedence over meeting the desires of a big power company,” Barczak said in a news release.
The new reactors are expected to come online in late 2017 and 2018, although an independent construction monitor for the state has said the project is falling further behind schedule. Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the new reactors.
Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said obtaining the permit was an “important milestone” toward operation of the new units. The company needs the permit in place when they are ready to test the reactors, he said.
Southern Nuclear is required 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.
The water intake is about a mile downstream of Hancock Landing Road in Burke County, according to the permit issued Dec. 5. The water, except that lost to evaporation, must be returned to the river through a discharge system regulated by the Clean Water Act.
According to the EPD, the maximum water withdrawal amount accounts for between 1 and 2 percent of the average water flow at the intake site. The agency said water levels in the Savannah are highly regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which also monitors drought conditions.