Ore. Enviro Groups to Wash. Nuke Site: Stop Killing Columbia River

The Energy Northwest Columbia Generating Station in Washington state uses over 20 million gallons of water from the Columbia River every day to cool its nuclear reactor. As one might expect, this has proven to be harmful to the river and its wildlife. Several Oregon-based environmental groups have joined forces and taken legal action in hopes of enacting change.

Running on Old Permits & Outdated Technology

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Northwest Environmental Advocates, and Columbia Riverkeeper filed a joint lawsuit late last month in Thurston County Superior Court. The suit—which was officially brought against the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council—seeks to invalidate a water pollution permit (how is that even a thing?) allowing the nuclear facility to operate its cooling water intake structures.

The environmental power trio’s lawsuit argues that the permit, originally issued in 2006, violates the Clean Water Act by allowing water pollution at levels well above state standards intended to protect public health, fishes, and other river-dwelling species.

Columbia Generating Station

Columbia Generating Station

No impact study has been required of the Columbia Generating Station’s intake structures, nor have any modernization efforts, since they were designed in the 1970s.

The permit in question was originally issued despite objections from the National Marine Fisheries Service. State and federal regulators were urged to require more modern intake structures that would protect endangered salmon. No formal or official regulations were required, however, and, unsurprisingly, head honchos at the Pacific Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power plant refused.

“Killing & Harming Endangered Salmon”

As Northwest Environmental Defense Center attorney Mala Nelson stated, “Experts from the National Marine Fisheries Service sounded the alarm about how this facility may be killing and harming endangered salmon. EFSEC’s blatant disregard for this input demands judicial oversight.”

The Columbia Generating Station reactor is, unfortunately, located at one of the most productive salmon spawning areas in the Northwest. The region’s largest remaining stock of wild fall Chinook Salmon in the Columbia River spawn there.

“This nuclear reactor is one of many sources of toxic chemicals that are contaminating the fish and wildlife of the Columbia River,” said Northwest Environmental Advocates executive director Nina Bell. “State and federal agencies give a lot of lip service to protecting […] water quality and species, but when it comes to actually restricting the polluters, these same agencies are nowhere to be found.”

Photo credit: NRCgov / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND