Environmentalists sue over nuclear reactor’s impact on Columbia River

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SPOKANE — Three environmental groups sued a state agency Thursday over the effects of the Northwest’s only commercial nuclear power plant on the water quality of the Columbia River.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center, Northwest Environmental Advocates and Columbia Riverkeeper filed the lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court against the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

The council in 2006 issued the water pollution permit for Energy Northwest’s Columbia Generating Station, which is on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The station uses 20 million gallons of water from the river every day to cool the nuclear reactor.

The lawsuit contends the permit violates the Clean Water Act by allowing water pollution at levels that violate state standards designed to protect public health, along with fish and other aquatic species.

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

The facility council declined to discuss the lawsuit, other than to say it will review it. “It would be inappropriate to comment on legal cases,” the council said.

The lawsuit will ask the court to invalidate the permit, which allows the nuclear plant to operate a cooling water intake structure.

The council issued the permit over strong objections from the National Marine Fisheries Service. In a series of letters, the fisheries service urged state and federal regulators to require modern water intake structures to protect threatened salmon from death or injury. But the facility council refused.

Energy Northwest has not been required to study the impacts of the intake structures or to modernize the structures since they were designed in the late 1970s, the environmental groups contend.

“State and federal agencies give a lot of lip service to protecting Columbia River water quality and species but when it comes to actually restricting the polluters, these same agencies are nowhere to be found,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates.

The portion of the Columbia River that flows past the reactor contains some of the most productive salmon spawning areas in the Northwest, including the largest remaining stock of wild fall Chinook salmon in the Columbia River, the environmental groups said.