“A state court has told Indian Point officials their timing is wrong in trying to fight New York regulators about using Hudson River water to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors.

“Petitioner’s claims are not ripe for review by the Court at this time,” acting state Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly wrote in a decision released June 19.

Connolly ruled that the power plant was premature in appealing an August 2008 state Department of Environmental Conservation recommendation that Indian Point be required to use “closed cycle cooling towers” as a way of reducing fish kills.

That method uses primarily the same river water over and over to cool the reactors, along the lines of a car’s radiator, rather than continually pulling in fresh water.

The electric power plant in Buchanan uses billions of gallons of river water daily, and the closed system would cut that use by 95 percent.

Environmental organizations like Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson believe Indian Point is harming area fish by cooling its nuclear reactors with water that is pumped back into the Hudson River at higher temperatures, creating “thermal pollution.”

In its announcement of the decision, Riverkeeper called the judge’s ruling “a major victory” in bringing Indian Point into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Officials for Entergy Nuclear, Indian Point’s owner, said they haven’t decided whether to ask a higher court to review the decision but were happy the judge didn’t say their current permit was invalid or that they weren’t using a proper method to cool their operations.

“The N.Y. courts’ decision was simply a step in the process that will allow us to ultimately obtain a water-use permit that makes the most sense environmentally and economically for the area around Indian Point,” Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said. “This decision makes no determination about what the best available technology is.”

Riverkeeper said the DEC now can move to require closed-cycle cooling. Hearings on a new draft water-use permit for the plant are tentatively scheduled for 2010.

The DEC declined to comment on the decision.

State DEC officials estimate that more than 1 billion fish a year are killed by the thermal pollution.

Experts for the nuclear industry assert that the majority of those fish killed would never reach maturity and that the change in water temperature is negligible.

The state’s recommendation, issued in a 54-page report, also said the feasibility of cooling towers – estimated to cost more than $1 billion – should be considered during what is expected to be a lengthy legal review process.

Company officials say putting in a new system would also affect the environment, with blasting and other construction, and that must be part of the debate as well.

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