A River Runs Through It…Backwards

Who knew. One fork of a certain river in NJ runs the wrong way, and nature’s got nothing to do with it.

Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Lacey Township, NJ, has no cooling towers so it sucks up billions of tons of water every day out of the south branch of the Forked River, altering the river’s course from its natural flow into the Bay into the plant instead. The cooling process superheats the water, effectively killing all living organisms, and then the water is spit back out, superheated, into Oyster Creek.

Willie deCamp knows. He took us to Oyster Creek and walked us into the superwarm exit branch of the Oyster Creek River. He told us the fishing is superb there because the fish love the warm water and that they come out of season because the water is warm all year round…unless the Plant has to shut down for some reason in the middle of winter. Then the fish all die from thermal shock.

Willie feels that, regardless of whether one is a fan of nuclear power or not, there is an easy solution that is not being considered. Oyster Creek Power Plant should have a completely closed-loop cooling tower system, like many other plants. This would eliminate the unnecessary killing of wildlife and altering of habitat for which the Plant is currently responsible. But there is no indication that this kind of a plan will be implemented and Willie worries that if the power company is not forced to build such towers, that there will be no change and the marine life in the area will be seriously impacted.

The operating lease is up in 2009 and many residents are trying to effectively block its renewal. Whether or not the Power Plant will continue to operate remains unseen but there are definitely more than a handful of people who are working to prevent its happening in Oyster Creek.

Willie DeKamp is one of them. It isn’t just the life of the Bay but the lives of the townspeople that Willie is concerned about. Nuclear power is not to be taken lightly. Though residents have been assured that an emergency evacuation would be speedy and efficient and is carefully planned, Willie believes that the opposite is true. He led us down the main artery out of the town after lunch hour and we sat in traffic. It was fairly congested in the middle of the day when not much was going on, so Willie encouraged us to imagine what would happen if there were a real emergency. He shook his head. “Chaos.”

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