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Salem Nuclear Generating Station

The Salem Nuclear Generating Station is the Largest Predator in the Delaware Estuary.  Delaware Riverkeeper Network continues our multi-year legal challenge to defeat the permit that allows the unprecedented fish kills inflicted by Salem unnecessarily as there is an alternative technology that would reduce those kills by over 95%.


The Salem Nuclear Generating Station, located on Artificial Island in Salem County, NJ kills over 14 billion Delaware River fish, eggs and larvae every year impingement and entrainment including: 

  • Over 59 million Blueback Herring 
  • Over 77 million Weakfish 
  • Over 134 million Atlantic Croaker 
  • Over 412 million White Perch 
  • Over 448 million Striped Bass 
  • Over 2 billion Bay Anchovy 

(Source: correspondence from US Fish & Wildlife Service to NJDEP, June 30, 2000 relying on PSE&G permit application data)

By retrofitting the Salem plant with a closed cycle cooling system those fish kills could be reduced by over 95%.  

In the past, rather than require this existing, used and proven technology, the State of NJ has primarily allowed PSE&G, the owner and operator of Salem, to “mitigate” its fish kills by changing the ratios of vegetation in wetlands.  The problem is, this program does nothing to reduce the fish kills and according to PSE&G’s own data is not improving fish habitat or fish abundance in the Delaware River.  Court rulings, of which the Delaware Riverkeeper Network has been a part, have made clear that mitigation is not an appropriate path for fulfilling the requirements of the Clean Water Act to minimize these fish kills.  

Salem’s permit expired in July, 2006.  February 2006 PSE&G submitted a permit renewal application. As a result the facility has been allowed to continue to operate under its expired permit.  

DRN Work

In October 2013, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed on behalf of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Jersey Sierra Club and the New Jersey Environmental Federation initiating a legal action requesting an order demanding that the NJDEP take action on PSE&G’s permit renewal application for the Salem Nuclear Generating Station located in Lower Alloways Creek Township, New Jersey.  

On November 13, 2014, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, New Jersey Sierra Club and Clean Water Action settled their legal action against the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and in-so-doing have secured a commitment from NJDEP to issue a draft discharge permit to PSE&G’s Salem Nuclear Generating Station by June 30, 2015. Issuance of the draft permit will cause NJDEP to take a position on whether the facility’s cooling water intake structures, which kill more than three (3) billion fish per year, must be updated to significantly reduce these fish kills and the facility’s water usage. Once the draft permit is issued the public will have a chance to submit comments and thereafter challenge any final NJDEP decision if it believes NJDEP has not required the proper level of environmental protection at the facility.

June 30, 2015, complying with the settlement agreement, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) issued a draft permit. The permit largely allows PSE&G to operate Salem business as usual – that means drawing in over 3 billion gallons of water a day to use in their cooling operations, killing over 3 billion (with a ‘B’) fish a year, discharging super heated water into sensitive estuarine waters, along with other pollutants. 

The State

While the State took 9 years to craft and issue this draft, they only gave the public 60 days and 1 hearing in which to review and comment. And both the comment period and the hearing occured during the height of vacation season (July and August with the hearing on August 5). Nonetheless, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network submitted significant comments and expert reports on the draft permit issued by NJDEP for public comment.  Amongst the findings of our experts:

  • Two major analyses show that stopping the killing of fish with closed cycle cooling could provide economic benefits worth up to $577 million….. ECONorthwest, p. vii
  • 14.7 billion fish a year are impinged and/or entrained at Salem.  Closed cycle cooling at Salem would reduce this mortality by over 12.8 billion.  ECONorthwest, p. 4
  • 14.7 billion fish impinged & entrained at Salem a year translates into 360 million fish killed in an average year that, but for Salem, would have survived to age one. ECONorthwest, p. 4
  •  “The total installed cost of [closed cycle cooling at Salem] ($852 million) represents about 31 percent of the companies [PSEG & Exelon, Salem’s owners] combined annual capital expenditure, and the annual loan payment pf just two percent.”  ECONorthwest, p. 24
  • Installing closed cycle cooling at Salem “would increase electricity rates by $0.0036 per kWh.”  ECONorthwest, p. 25

Copies of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network comment and expert reports can be found at:

Despite the signficant expert, legal and factual challenges contained in our permit, on June 10, 2016, NJDEP issued a final permit that allowed PSEG to essentially continue business as usual when it came to their operations that result in the killing of over 14 Billion fish, eggs and larvae every year from our Delaware River.  In response, on July 8, 2016 the Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a legal challenge with the Office of Legal Affairs in New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection seeking a new hearing to review the renewed permit issued by NJDEP to PSE&G’s Salem Nuclear Generating Station located on Artificial Island in Salem County, NJ. The permit, as issued, would extend the Salem facility’s use of once through cooling (OTC), a controversial technology that has been challenged as being outdated, unnecessary, and responsible for annually killing billions of fish, including the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. 

Throughout the legal battle NJDEP has sought to hide information from the public, forcing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to have to engage in lengthy battles to gain access to text messages and emails sent by NJDEP staff regarding the issue and to secure the right to depose key NJDEP staffers who worked on the permit.  Finally, on October 28, 2019, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law granted the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s motion to compel the deposition of three New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) employees regarding the Salem Nuclear Generating Station’s New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit and to secure access to emails that had so far been denied the organization.  While the Judge did not require NJDEP to produce unredacted pre-decisional drafts of the 2015 draft permit and the 2016 final permit, he overwhelmingly found in DRN’s favor on other requests. In a decision issued October 28, the judge granted DRN’s motion to compel the production of relevant emails.  In addition, finding DRN demonstrated good cause, the judge granted the Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s request to take the depositions of key NJDEP employees. The judge’s determination in part states, “I CONCLUDE that petitioner has demonstrated “good cause” – specifically there has been a showing that information requested is highly technical in nature and cannot be obtained in other ways.” 

To read the judge’s letter order, click here.

 NJDEP appealed the October ruling. In a remarkable twist, in this administrative proceeding, the arbiter to whom the NJDEP appealed was the head of the NJDEP, Commissioner Catherine McCabe. On December 16, 2019, Commissioner McCabe ruled against DRN’s right to take the depositions of three NJDEP employees.  In her ruling, Commissioner McCabe suggested that allowing the depositions would “set a precedent that makes depositions routine in all permitting matters and will cause an undue burden on the Department.” 

Despite this unsavory legal development, discovery in the case has continued to advance as has our legal challenge. It has been a slow slog but we continue to pursue this precedent setting legal challenge essential for protecting our Delaware Estuary and the fish and aquatic life essential ecologically, recreationally, and economically.

On a related note:  on August 13, 2019, once again, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network has reached out to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to urge them to take action protect the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River.  Time and again we have reached out about the excessive takes of sturgeon by both the Army Corps of Engineers and by PSEG’s Salem Nuclear Generating Station.  Every time they turn a blind eye. When will it stop? See the letter and horrific photos here.

Fact sheets discussing previous battles with Salem: