January 16, 2010 Asbury Park Press
Lacey campaign a shot in arm for Salem plants' opponents

The billowing plume of steam from the 512-foot cooling tower at the Hope Creek nuclear power plant is visible for miles. But residents of this rural township along Delaware Bay say it serves more than one purpose.

"That's how you tell the wind direction down here," Mayor Ellen B. Pompper said. "You look at the Hope Creek tower. It's part of our landscape."

Some residents would welcome more cooling towers at the two Salem nuclear plants next to the Hope Creek plant to help protect fish and other life in Delaware Bay.

Cooling towers recycle most of the water pulled from a bay or other waterway, sharply reducing the number of fish and other creatures killed by thirsty power plants.

"I definitely think it would be a good idea" to add cooling towers at the Salem plants, said Wayne C. Serfass, 25, a township resident.

But Pompper, who's lived in town since 1974 and whose husband and son work at the plant, said she doesn't think more cooling towers are needed. She thinks an Estuary Enhancement Program by plant operator PSEG Nuclear has "helped a lot."

The voluntary program involves restoring wetlands, which serve as breeding grounds for fish, and other efforts.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is working on draft permits that may or may not lead to cooling towers at the Salem plants, which began operating more than 25 years ago.

On Jan. 7, the agency proposed cooling towers for the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey. But the plant's owner said it will shut down the plant if towers are required. The towers could be less than 100 feet high and have essentially no visible steam plume.

Cooling towers at both Salem plants would probably cost close to $1.5 billion overall, according to PSEG Nuclear spokesman Joe Delmar.

Plant officials wouldn't decide whether to shut down the plants if cooling towers are required until the DEP issues a final permit, Delmar said.

About 1,500 people work at the three plants, and PSEG Nuclear is the largest employer in Salem County, he said.

Ken Strait, PSEG Nuclear manager of biological programs, said the plants have had "no effect on populations in the estuary."

But the anti-nuclear UNPLUG Salem Campaign hopes that the DEP's Oyster Creek proposal sets a precedent for the Salem plants, said coordinator Norm Cohen of Linwood.

"I don't really care if (the Estuary Enhancement Program is) working or not," he said. "It doesn't change the fact that the two nukes are killing fish."