Concerns About Water Use, Wildlife Aired at Hearing on Comanche Peak Expansion

Monday, January 7, 2009
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jan. 7--GLEN ROSE -- As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission examines the potential environmental effects of two proposed reactors at the Comanche Peak power plant, Jack Cathey wants to know how wildlife is faring from hot water now being discharged into Squaw Creek.

The longtime Glen Rose resident, who operates a canoe-rental business, was one of more than 100 elected officials, company representatives and ordinary people at a public hearing sponsored by the NRC on Tuesday afternoon.

The session, scheduled to be repeated Tuesday night, sought to solicit comments for the agency's environmental review of Luminant Generation's application to expand its Comanche Peak nuclear plant, which has operated since 1990.

"Don't get me wrong. I support the plant," Cathey said in an interview after addressing the hearing at the Somervell County Expo and Texas Amphitheatre. He said he just wants regulators to pay closer attention to all of Comanche Peak's effects.

Nearly all the residents of Somervell and Hood counties at the hearing voiced approval of the expansion and the operation of Comanche Peak by Luminant and its corporate predecessor, TXU Corp. Many who spoke said they were living in the area in the 1970s when the plant was originally proposed. Despite some initial concerns at the time, they now support it with little reservation.

"I realize there is some danger. We all do," said Marilyn Phillips, a business owner and Somervell school board trustee. As a teenager in 1974, she swore she'd leave town if the reactors were built, but since then the facility has earned her respect, Phillips said.

Still, there were critics of expansion.

W.D. Kimzey of Weatherford expressed skepticism that the plant's benefits offset its negatives. Water levels along the Brazos River are already low, and the addition of two reactors to Comanche Peak will just boost the facility's water use, Kimzey said.

He said he has measured the temperature of discharged water and found that it is 104 degrees Fahrenheit as it flows down Squaw Creek on its way back to the Brazos.

Cathey said frogs, turtles and fish are disappearing from the creek, a development he said should serve as an early warning sign that "there's something wrong."

Mitchell Lucas, vice president of nuclear engineering and support for Luminant, said Comanche Peak's permit allows it to discharge water as hot as 113 degrees. But the two new reactors will use a different cooling system that will limit the temperature to 93 degrees, he said.

The trade-off, he said, is that much more water will evaporate in the new system, which uses a bank of low cooling towers to eliminate excess heat. In all, about 60 percent of the estimated 33 billion gallons used annually will be lost to the atmosphere, whereas most of the water used in the current system is returned to the river.

That's a big impact in an area short on water, Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition and a critic of nuclear power, said in an interview after the hearing.

Hadden said at the hearing that the continued development of nuclear power will leave a legacy of radioactive waste "that will last, literally, millions of years," all because "we couldn't figure out a smarter way to use our energy."

NRC officials told the audience that they will accept public comments for their study through Feb. 19, then responses to them through June.

Federal regulators expect to produce a draft environmental impact statement by year's end with copies to be made available at the Somervell and Hood county public libraries, said William Burton, chief of the agency's environmental branch.

JIM FUQUAY, 817-390-7552

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