REFRESH: On the Wild Side at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

Update: At nuclear power plants in the southwest, snakes, scorpions and black widow spiders are not an unusual sight. Resident Inspectors have to be especially careful during their walkthroughs in those plants not to poke into areas between pipes or bundles of electrical cables where venomous critters may be nesting.  But the most exotic wildlife may be the denizens at the South Texas Project nuclear plant in Bay City, where alligators abound. “We usually have about 75 alligators roaming around on site here at any given time,” said Shelia Davis, a corporate communications specialist for the South Texas Project. “If they stray into areas where they shouldn’t be we have people who are specially trained and can move them safely to our 7,000 acre reservoir.” Victor Dricks

Neil Sheehan
Public Affairs Officer
Region I

refresh leafExamples abound of the ways in which nature abhors a vacuum. Raptors will set up shop on a skyscraper ledge, just as they will on a cliff, if it suits their needs. Coyotes have been increasingly spotted in urban settings, even roaming about the streets of Manhattan. Last year, surveillance cameras captured images of a mountain lion strolling the Hollywood Hills after dark.

Nuclear power plants are also home to a variety of wildlife. Despite the industrial nature of these facilities, they are usually situated on large tracts of land encompassing hundreds of acres. They are also adjacent to bodies of water in order to tap into that H20 for cooling purposes.

All of that property and access to water can entice a variety of animals and birds to take up residence on the sites. And they do just that.

Information supporting this can be found in the Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Reports for U.S. nuclear power plants that have ceased operations.

In the report for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which was submitted to the NRC in December 2014, it’s noted that the main emissions stack includes an attached nesting box for peregrine falcons. The box was installed by the company in 2009 at the request of the Audubon Society.

It’s been a rousing success, as according to the report “there have been two consecutive years of four young born and successfully fledged since 2012.”

An alligator crossing sign at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant.
An alligator crossing sign at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant.

Current decommissioning plans call for the Vernon, Vt., plant to be placed in storage for several decades prior to the initiation of major dismantlement work. However, when the time comes to remove the stack, the plant’s owner will need to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to removing the nesting box since the peregrine falcon is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Peregrine falcons can also be found at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, in central Pennsylvania. The PSDAR for TMI-2, where a severe accident occurred in 1979 and which won’t be taken apart until the neighboring TMI-1 permanently shuts down and is also ready for that work, shows peregrine falcons have nested on the TMI reactor building since 2002.

Meanwhile, the plant’s meteorological tower, which collects important weather data, has been home to an osprey nest every year since 2004. Ospreys, also referred to as fish hawks (with a wing span from around 5 feet), like to be around water, so it’s not surprising that TMI, situated on the Susquehanna River, is a place they call home.

A variety of wildlife can be found in the vicinity of the Crystal River 3 nuclear power plant, located on the Gulf Coast of Florida. That plant’s PSDAR, which the NRC received in December 2013, identifies the following threatened or endangered species in the vicinity of the site: Two species of fish — Gulf sturgeon and smalltooth sawfish; five species of sea turtles — green turtle, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and loggerhead; one crocodilian species — American alligator; and one marine mammal — Florida manatee.

But on the site itself, only one state-listed threatened species, the bald eagle, and one state-listed endangered species, the wood stork, are found, according to the report. The PSDAR adds that three other species can “potentially occur” on the property: the gopher tortoise, the eastern indigo snake and the piping plover.

In the case of all of these plants and the others around the country, precautions must be taken to minimize the impacts of operations and decommissioning activities on these species and their habitats, consistent with federal and state laws.

REFRESH is an occasional series where we rerun and/or update previous blog posts. This post first ran in August 2015.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

2 thoughts on “REFRESH: On the Wild Side at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants”

  1. I got a swell idea. Shut the plants down and do an emergency decommissioning…turn the sites into a public wildlife refuge. Turn them into a wildlife park like Maine Yankee. Then everyone could enjoy the wildlife.

    I hope you are not becoming one of them kooks who more values animal’s life over a human life? I wonder what OHSA thinks about wild animals in an industrial facilities threatening the safety of humans. Of course, to get the extent of encounters with wild animals, rodents, insects and reptiles at nuclear plants, you would have to document all encounters. I doubt this happens.

    We all know the damage chipmunks, squirrels and raccoons do to switchyards throughout the USA. Are you heading to your Disneyland moment where an alligator steals a young child from their parents? A mother alligator protecting her eggs or young offspring. Disneyland bragged they had a strict program to remove the big and threatening alligators from their artificial lakes, then the boy disappeared from the swimming area.

    This is nothing but “wildlife washing” over troubled facilities like VY and Chernobyl. This is how it all began as a public relation scam to divert public attention from troubled plants. I get it, valuing corporate public relations over the human lives. It’s more a benign form of my altruism corruption…whitewashing lying and deception. Exactly like greenwashing and astroturfing.

    An article like this just shows how the NRC has turned into the public relations arm of the nuclear industry…the inherent bias of the agency in everything they do… and their political campaign contributions.

    When I was a little boy, I lived near a big city’s (Springfield Ma) active dump. We dumped all our household waste and garbage in this dump. I visited this area often on my own. It was the most intensive wildlife area I ever seen. We had many thousands of seagulls, starlings, crows, rats and an assortment of other animals living on this property. I supposed you could call this a public relation special wildlife area. We basically built a mountain with our waste. They now got thousands of solar panels atop this dump mountain.

    Mike Mulligan
    Hinsdale, NH

  2. So, let’s radiate the DNA of alligators in that space where radiation levels are how high? Makes me think of the Chernobyl forest a bit. 😵😎
    Yet it encourages me to hear there are, perhaps, people who scientifically do these things are watching the population and how our nuclear facility is changing that old earth reptilian DNA with nuclear radiation. The wild side maybe coming sooner rather than later with #fuqafukushima changing the nature of water …. oh, I’m gonna go water my plants now …… thanks for the interesting story @NRC. Shut down the old models and let’s get an intelligent foundation including real waste management that can sustain growth on earth! Hugs ❤ nikiV

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