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Friday, March 11, 2016

UPDATED: Millstone tries to “greenwash” its image

Dirty money and a great institution's credibility
By Will Collette
Here is Millstone's biggest contribution to the ecology of Long Island
Sound - one BILLION gallons per day of heated reactor cooling water 

UPDATE: Since I wrote this article on how Millstone is attempting to "greenwash" its image by sponsoring a program at the Mystic Aquarium, I received an e-mail from Mystic with the details on that program.

As I predicted, there is ZERO mention in the description of the impact of Millstone's dumping of ONE BILLION gallons of heated reactor cooling water into Long Island Sound.

So you can see for yourself, I have appended that e-mail to the end of this article.

Since my last dispatch on the misfortunes and mishaps at the nearby Millstone Nuclear Power Plant, owned by Virginia-based Dominion Energy, I spotted something I had hoped I would never see.

I have been a proud member of the Mystic Aquarium, a great place to visit for fun, but also a place that does wonderful healing work on injured marine animals. I’ve always enjoyed watching them return a rehabilitated seal or seal lion, which they usually do from one of Charlestown’s beaches.

They also do some serious science at the Aquarium and science education. For example, they have a program coming up on March 16, free and open to the public, on the ecology of Long Island Sound.

The sponsor of that event is none other than Dominion Energy, owner of Millstone, which sucks up more than a BILLION (not million, BILLION) gallons of sea water from the Sound as cooling water for its reactors and then dumps the heated water back into the Sound. This happens each and every day.

Millstone has a long rap sheet for violations involving failures and leaks within that vital cooling system, the one that uses a billion gallons of sea water every day, which suggests that the water they dump back into the Sound may be “hot” in more ways than one.

As a dues-paying member of the Aquarium, I complained about this obvious case of “green-washing[FN1]” and how it is inappropriate for such an event be sponsored by a corporation that not only dumps ecology-changing hot water, but also resists the EPA and state’s demands that they build cooling towers, the beaker-shaped structures you see at most power plants, because it will cost too much money.

Andy Wood, Senior Vice President of External Relations at Mystic responded to my complaint with this:

We appreciate your interest in our upcoming “Conservation in Action” lecture series and its connection with Dominion. The program you reference has been funded through Dominion’s Environmental Stewardship Grants Program. That program was created to fund non-profit initiatives designed to protect and preserve natural habitats; improve open spaces; make nature accessible; and educate the public about environmental stewardship. Our relationship with Dominion helps them better understand the issues facing Long Island Sound and generates public programming designed to discuss those issues with the broader public.
While we understand you have a personal disagreement with this relationship, as a member we know you also understand how important it is for Mystic Aquarium to continue raising awareness to all of the threats facing our ocean planet. It is our mission to inspire more like you to help care for and protect our ocean planet. We hope you can understand that we have not waivered, nor will we waiver from that position. There is much we can do as a community to help protect our oceans.
In my complaint, I wrote “I understand the need for non-profits to raise money and for one of your size to need to raise corporate funding.  However, in my opinion, it is a conflict of interest for you to use Dominion funding for such a program that directly affects Millstone’s corporate self-interest.”

Maybe the reason why the Aquarium releases rehabbed seals on
Charlestown beaches is because they are just downstream from
Millstone's reactor water discharges.
I cited the billion gallons of Sound water used by Millstone daily and their record of violations. And I asked for some assurance that Dominion/Millstone’s massive daily dumping of used reactor cooling water into the Sound would be covered in the program. 

Note that he doesn’t address that part of my complaint.

But Mr. Woods thinks this program will somehow help Dominion to better understand the issues facing Long Island Sound.

As if they were somehow unaware that they themselves are one of the greatest real environmental hazards in our part of New England, not just to Long Island Sound’s ecology, but to all life within a 50-mile radius.

Charlestown is well within that 50 mile zone. In fact, we are just 20 miles to the east of Millstone, well within the path of a radioactive cloud if Millstone’s persistent cooling problems ever cause a worst-case scenario.

Let’s take a look at what has happened at Millstone since my last article.

In January, the country’s most lenient environmental regulation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decided to cite three violations at Millstone for its “unusual event” last October. What was “unusual” about that “event” was that not only did they have another coolant system problem, they also had a leak of 16,570 gallons of coolant water – the water they drew from the Sound.

Here is the NRC report.

On November 10th, Dominion had to SCRAMM (emergency shut-down) Reactor #2 due to a coolant pump oil leak. Millstone’s p.r. guy Ken Holt said that the November 10 leak was a “different leak” on the same pump that caused another SCRAMM on November 8.

Following a September 30th inspection, the NRC reported it found three more safety breeches at Millstone. As usual, all of these problems were in Millstone’s cooling system.

Just days after that NRC inspection, on October 4, Millstone had what the regulators call “an unusual event.” The NRC said in a news release that this “unusual event” involved a leak in the reactor coolant system of greater than 25 gallons per minute. I guess the “usual” is to have coolant leaks of less 25 gallons per minute. That way, they have time to change the catch buckets.

Add to these recurring problems the fact that Millstone is now on the downslope of its operational life. Soon, it will be joining Connecticut Yankee (near Middletown) as a “decommissioned” site that lies there for the next several millennia as a high-level radioactive waste dump holding a million pounds of high-level radioactive waste.

That is the destiny for Millstone, as it is for the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, MA which recently announced it was closing. Other plants are also nearing the end, so the NRC has decided it might be time to update its regulations on the subject of decommissioning.

Nearly all of the radioactive waste these power plants produced in their operational lives will sit there for the foreseeable future. Millstone will be storing 3.6 million pounds of high-level waste on-site.
There’s just no other place to put all that waste, even though the industry promised the public at the beginning of the atomic age that they’d have a solution for the waste problem when the time came. Well, the time has come and gone.

Even low level waste storage is a terrible problem. On October 15, a low-level radioactive waste site 100 miles outside of Las Vegas exploded and burned. So did the federal government’s experimental nuclear waste storage site in New Mexico. That experiment was supposed to instill confidence that nuclear waste can be safely stored. But maybe not so much.

So this brings me back to the question I raised with Mystic Aquarium. Given all these well-documented problems, especially the dumping of heated reactor water into Long Island Sound, why is Mystic Aquarium letting Millstone sponsor a program on the ecology of Long Island Sound?

Why is the Aquarium allowing itself to be a pawn in Dominion Energy’s “greenwashing” scheme?

Despite my misgivings about Mystic taking money from Millstone,
it's still a wonderful place as my grand-niece can attest.
Taken as a whole, I think the Mystic Aquarium is a fine institution and especially love their marine mammal rescue and rehab program. I love going to the Aquarium. 

I understand that sometimes in fund-raising you hold your nose and take dirty money. I’ve heard several fund-raisers laugh and make jokes with variations on the theme “the problem with dirty money is there isn’t enough of it.”

But I resent having one of their senior officials tell me that taking their money “helps them better understand the issues facing Long Island Sound”. Cathy and I will have to think about this bit of bovine excrement when we decide whether to renew our memberships.

Here is the e-mail I received from Mystic giving a fuller description of the upcoming Millstone-sponsored program:

Third event in Mystic Aquarium’s Conservation in Action speaker series
Mystic, Conn. (March 7, 2016): Concerns about water quality in our local area will be the hot topic during a panel discussion on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at Mystic Aquarium. Water Quality: From Ground to Sound is part of Mystic Aquarium’s Conservation in Action speaker series.

Water pollution is more than floating plastic bags and oil spills; it includes contaminants from wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, and even rain water runoff that carries pollutants into our local bays and rivers. This eye-opening panel discussion will look at pollution in our local bays and rivers. Three area experts will share tips that everyone can adopt to help improve the quality of our natural waterways.

The panel discussion featuring Dr. Jamie Vaudrey-University of Connecticut, David Prescott-Save the Bay and Chris Freeman-Clean Up Sound and Harbors (CUSH) will begin at 6:45pm.  A reception will follow with complimentary hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

Admission to this event is free with required advance reservations. Guest must be 14+ to attend. Reservations are available online at

Dr. Vaudrey is an Assistant Research Professor with the Department of Marine Sciences for the University of Connecticut. Her research interests focus on the area of ecosystem dynamics in the coastal zone, specifically in the effect of land-use on the coastal environment and how human-induced changes to the landscape may change our coastal ecosystems. Prescott serves as the South County Coastkeeper for Save The Bay’s South Coast Center located in Westerly, RI.  He helps to defend the right to clean water and serves as the voice for our local community and waters. Freeman serves as President of CUSH, and seeks to engage community members to help improve the quality of our sounds and harbors.


[1] Wikipedia defines “green-washing” as “a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.”