Human Factor IV: The Impact of a Boiling Water Nuclear Reactor on the Plankton, Benthic and Biofouling Communities in the Reactor's Intake and Discharge Creeks
Barnegat Bay is one of the most magnificent and interesting places I have ever seen. It is home to fascinating wildlife, including migratory birds and a number of endangered species. My mother is from New Jersey and spent much of her childhood along Barnegat Bay, studying the estuary and trying to uncover its secrets. My four brothers and I were raised in Central Pennsylvania, but we have spent summers along Barnegat Bay. Our mother taught us about the treasure of the bay's inhabitants. We learned to kayak to the sedge islands in the bay and explored the islands' riches. Along the shore of the bay we watched more extraordinary sunsets than I can count as the days ended and the mysteries of the night enveloped the estuary.
My brothers and I participated in many years of marine biology summer camps. We came to know and care passionately about Barnegat Bay, and I was inspired to do scientific research in the Barnegat Bay Estuary and have worked on projects in the Barnegat Bay Estuary for four years. In eighth grade, my first year of serious research, I examined whether the bay's water quality has declined along with phenomenal population increases; it is one of the fastest-growing areas in New Jersey. I studied 11 indicators of water quality. I also collected 40 years of historical water-quality data from a variety of public databases and compared the current results to the historical data. Water quality in the estuary has declined in several significant respects, according to my research.
In the second year of my work in the estuary, I studied the relationship between water quality and the growth of gram-negative pathogen indicator bacteria (as a predictor of increases in pathogen bacteria). After culturing bacteria and studying microscopic slides of the bacteria, I concluded that certain water-quality parameters (temperature, pH, nitrate-nitrogen, and dissolved oxygen) affect bacteria growth in the bay, but salinity does not.
As a result of these projects, I wanted visitors to the Barnegat Bay Estuary to know about the complexity and importance of this seemingly there-forever, safe-forever bay. I received two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants to write and illustrate a pamphlet about what people can do to protect the bay. Copies of the pamphlet were distributed during 2004, 2005, and 2006 to every realtor on Long Beach Island, the barrier island that is the eastern border of the bay. Over 18,000 pamphlets have been given to people renting homes on Long Beach Island.
Barnegat Bay is shallow, with an average depth of two meters. The water is flushed out about every 60 days, as there are only two narrow inlets at either end of the bay (Kennish, 2001). Several years ago, I learned that there is a nuclear reactor operating in the Barnegat Bay Estuary. As I studied the reactor and its surrounding creeks, I noticed distinct differences between the creek leading into the reactor and the creek into which the reactor discharges water. I became intrigued about the impact the reactor was having on those creeks.
Last year, I studied that reactor, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, the oldest of the 103 operating nuclear reactors in the United States (Vasavada and Rusch, 2003). In particular, I examined the microbial communities and water quality of the reactor's intake and discharge creeks, compared to a nearby control creek.
This year, I continued my study of the reactor. I examined biodiversity and species abundance in the reactor's intake and discharge creeks compared to a nearby control creek, Cedar Creek, which is not directly impacted by the reactor. I studied the benthic, plankton, and biofouling communities, and also studied water-quality parameters and microbial communities in the creeks as background information.
My hypotheses were that the benthic and plankton communities would be less numerous and less diverse in Oyster Creek, the nuclear reactor's discharge creek, than in Forked River, the reactor's intake creek, and Cedar Creek, the control creek; and that biofouling organisms would be less diverse in Oyster Creek than in Forked River or Cedar Creek.
The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station
Oyster Creek is a boiling-water nuclear reactor, one of 34 remaining in the United States (History of Nuclear Energy, 2003). A boiling-water reactor (BWR) uses a "once-through" cooling system. Water is pulled in from a nearby source, brought to a boil, converted to steam, and then cooled back to water. The water circulates through a single loop, sending steam to turbines and water to the reactor's core, and is then discharged into a nearby body of water while still very warm.
The Oyster Creek reactor is in Lacey Township, on the fringes of the Pine Barrens. The reactor sits at the confluence of the South Branch of Forked River (the intake creek) and Oyster Creek (the discharge creek). This confluence is a creature of human engineering. Before the reactor was constructed, the creeks were separate, brackish tidal creeks. They flowed out of the Pine Barrens into the bay.The direction of Forked River has now been reversed by the operation of the reactor, which draws over 4.5 billion liters of water daily from Forked River, heats the water, and discharges it into Oyster Creek (O'Malley, 2007). The daily water intake ranges from 28 to 56 cubic meters per second, which has been estimated to equal the force of a midsize river (O'Malley, 2007). The Atlantic Ocean is 16 kilometers away.
Overview of the Project
I studied three creeks in this project: Forked River and Oyster Creek (the intake and discharge creeks of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station), and Cedar Creek, the control creek, located approximately 11 km south of the nuclear plant. There are nine sampling sites: the mouth, the center, and the head of each of the three creeks studied. (In Forked River and Oyster Creek, the "head" is the closest point to the power plant that the general public can reach.) I collected water and sediment samples at each of the three sites, six times over a three-month period during the summer and fall of 2006. The total material collected on each of the six sampling days is called a set. Two biofouling apparatuses were also submerged at each site during the project.
Plankton Population Sampling
Plankton are tiny animals and plants that drift or swim in the water column. Most of the plankton studied in the project were microplankton, which range from 20-200 µm in length (Boney, 1979). Plankton play a critical role in the food chain, providing forage for the tiniest creatures up to the whale shark. Plankton are divided into two major groups: phytoplankton (plants) and zooplankton (animals). They are valuable indicators of environmental health because they rapidly reproduce (What Are Phytoplankton, 2005).
There are many types of phytoplankton, and the two most common in marine waters are diatoms and dinoflagellates (Plankton: Food for All, 2007). Diatoms (class Bacillariophyceae) are very common in many water environments. They are characterized by a distinctive cell wall, and all exhibit some kind of symmetry (radial or bilateral) (Boney, 1979).
Zooplankton consume phytoplankton and in turn become food sources for larger organisms. Some zooplankton remain plankton for their entire lives; others are larvae of marine animals and are zooplankton for a short time (Beyond the Reef, 2002).
In this project, I collected plankton with a 50-micron mesh net that has a collection bottle at its base, dragging it through the water for three minutes at each sampling site. In the laboratory, I transferred one milliliter of water with a dropper to a Sedgewick-Rafter counting slide, added four drops of Protoslo™ to the slide, and counted the plankton. I also photographed the plankton for later identification.
Benthic Community Sampling
The benthic, or bottom-dwelling, community is an important component of any aquatic assessment. Benthic macroinvertebrates have limited movement and cannot readily avoid changes in environmental conditions. Because of that, they respond quickly to environmental changes (Thiel and Sauer, 1999). Organisms in the benthic community include annelids, arthropods, mollusks, and other macroinvertebrates (Benthic Macroinvertebrate, 2001).
To study the benthic community, I collected sediment from the bottom of each creek at each of the nine collection sites, using a Fieldmaster Mighty Grab™ field grabber. I sieved the sediment sample in creek water using a 500-micron brass sieve. I put the sediment in a capped jar, added ethanol, and mixed and added three drops of Rose Bengal to the sample. After 48 hours, I put the sample into a white invertebrate sorting pan and sorted, counted, and identified the organisms.
Biofouling Organism Analysis
Biofouling occurs when undesirable organisms accumulate on things that are submerged in the water, such as boats, piers, dock ladders, pipelines, and even the internal operating systems of ships, such as air conditioning and ventilation systems (Davis and Williamson, 2006). Most of the literature describes two major stages in biofouling. The first is microfouling, when a submerged structure becomes covered with a sticky biofilm primarily consisting of bacteria. It is often called "slime," and some scientists call this initial adhesion of organic material to submerged surfaces "the first kiss" (Callow and Callow, 2002). The second or later stage is known as macrofouling, when larger organisms such as barnacles and tubeworms take advantage of the slime layer and attach themselves to the submerged, slime-covered structures.
Biofouling is of major commercial significance in waterways. It can increase a ship's fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent, adding economic and environmental costs (Davis and Williamson, 2006). The U.S. Navy spends approximately $1 billion a year on cleaning and attempting to prevent biofouling (Callow and Callow, 2002). It is a more serious problem in warm water; cold water has a lower prevalence of biofouling. While biofouling has been studied since the time of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians (Callow and Callow, 2002), there are still no widely available nontoxic methods to prevent biofouling (Davis and Williamson, 2006).
To study the creeks' biofouling organisms, I designed and constructed a biofouling exposure testing apparatus using an acrylic plate (30 cm square), a new cinder block, and a two-meter length of cotton line. I placed two of the devices side by side, one meter apart, on the bottom of the creek at each collection site, at a depth of one meter. I recorded the locations of each block using a GPS device. At 30 and 90 days, respectively, I removed one biofouling apparatus from each site and counted and categorized the biofouling organisms that grew on each apparatus.
As background information for my projects, I have collected and studied water-quality parameter data each year. This year, I again analyzed 10 water-quality indicators: biochemical oxygen demand (the amount of oxygen used by microorganisms as they decompose organic matter in water); conductivity (the measure of water's ability to carry electrical current); dissolved oxygen (the amount of oxygen concentrated in the water); the specific gravity of seawater (the amount of salinity in the water, which is affected by temperature); oxygen reduction potential (the amount of electric potential needed to transfer electrons from one element or compound to a different compound); pH (the measure of the acidity or alkalinity); salinity (the measure of dissolved salts in the water); temperature; total dissolved solids (the measurement of the amount of organic and inorganic material dissolved in water); and turbidity (measure of sediment in water, or in essence, the clarity of the water).
Microbial Community Analysis
As additional background information, I again collected and analyzed the microbial communities at each of the testing sites using EcoPlates™ assays. An EcoPlate™ is a 96-well plate containing carbon substrates. The plate is inoculated with a water sample and when the inoculum respires, a color change results, providing a metabolic footprint of the microbial community (Microbial Community Analysis, 2004).
I also studied the microbial community by plating Petri dishes with water samples, using two kinds of agar, MacConkeys and Nutrient agar. Nutrient grows gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, while MacConkeys grows only gram-negative bacteria (Fankhauser, 2001).
Results (Data and Findings): Methods of Analysis
I used an analysis of variance (p < 0.05) to analyze much of the data in this project. i used anova to compare the total number of plankton and benthic organisms per set among the three creeks. i also compared individual sites within the creeks.
In my analysis of the creek communities, I considered the relative abundance of plankton and benthic organisms instead of raw abundance. This allows for better comparison of the makeup of the communities without allowing differences in the raw numbers to skew the data. For example, in the control creek, Cedar Creek, there were many more plankton per set than in the reactor creeks. I used the percentage of total plankton, as comprised by the different types of plankton, to compare the plankton communities in Cedar Creek to the other creeks. This keeps it from appearing as if one type of plankton is more dominant in Cedar Creek because of that creek's high plankton numbers, when in fact that type of plankton makes up the same percentage of the total plankton community in Cedar Creek as it does in the other creeks.
I also used Shannon's Diversity Index, a mathematical measure of the biological diversity of a community. It was used in this study to determine diversity at the study sites. This equation is useful because it takes into account relative abundance as well as species richness (total number of species observed). The formula is:
In this formula, S is the species richness, and pi is the ratio of the number of organisms in a particular species to the total number of organisms in the sample. I used another formula in this project that incorporated Shannon's Diversity Index to calculate how evenly the organisms are distributed among the species in the sample (Beals, Gross, and Harrell, 2000). The formula for evenness is:
In this project, total plankton counts in the control creek were significantly higher than in either the intake or discharge creeks, which were not significantly different from each other. During the project I counted 1,824 plankton in the control creek, an average per set of 101 plankton at each Cedar Creek site. I counted 603 plankton in the intake creek, or an average per set of 34 plankton at each Forked River site; and 488 plankton in the discharge creek, an average per set of 27 at each Oyster Creek site.
The plankton I observed in this project were divided into three main groups: diatoms, arthropods, and "other plankton." Diatoms comprised 59% of the plankton in the control creek, 62% of the plankton in the intake creek, and 65% of the plankton in the discharge creek. Arthropods made up 26% of the plankton in the control creek, 27% in the intake creek, and 22% in the discharge creek. The remaining 15% in the control creek, 11% in the intake creek, and 13% in the discharge creek were other plankton types. The percentage of diatoms was significantly lower in the control creek than in the reactor creeks.
Diatoms were subdivided into five subcategories: Surirellaceae, Coscinodiscaceae, Biddulphiaceae, Entomoneidaceae, and one currently unidentified diatom. These subcategories of diatoms comprised varying percentages of the creeks' diatom populations. This was especially true for Coscinodiscaceae, which made up a significantly higher percentage of the diatoms in the reactor creeks. Biddulphiaceae and the unidentified diatom made up a significantly lower percentage of the diatoms in the reactor creeks. Entomoneidaceae made up a significantly larger percentage of the diatoms in the discharge creek compared to the control creek.
Of the 2,915 total plankton observed during the project, 395 of these plankton (or 13%) were neither diatoms nor arthropods. Sixty-eight percent of these were in the control creek, and 16% were in each of the intake and discharge creeks. Four types of these other plankton were found more often in Cedar Creek. (I could not use ANOVA to analyze this data because of the small number of sets in which each type of plankton in this group were observed.) The four types of plankton that appeared most often in Cedar Creek were Oscillatoria, Foraminiferan, Annelids, and Tintinnids. Ninety-seven percent of Oscillatoria, 78% of Foraminiferan, 81% of Annelids, and 72% of Tintinnids counted in this project are found in Cedar Creek.
Using Shannon's Diversity Index, it can be seen that the diversity in the intake creek was significantly lower than in both the other creeks. The control creek was an average of 0.23 more diverse than in the intake creek; the discharge creek was an average of 1.4 more diverse than the intake creek. The evenness of the distribution of organisms among the species was significantly lower in the control creek than that in both the intake and discharge creeks. The control creek's evenness was an average of 0.15 lower than the discharge creek and 0.08 lower than the intake creek. The intake creek's evenness was an average of 0.06 lower than the discharge creek. The number of types of organisms was significantly higher in the control creek than in both reactor creeks. The control creek had an average of two more types of organisms per site per set than either reactor creek.
In this project, I observed significant differences among all three creeks in the total number of benthic organisms. There was a total of 329 organisms in the control creek, Cedar Creek, or an average of 18 organisms in each site per set. There were 618 organisms in the intake creek, Forked River, or an average of 34 organisms at each site per set; and 104 organisms in the discharge creek, Oyster Creek, or an average of 6 at each site per set.
I analyzed the benthic community in each creek in three parts: annelids, mollusks, and arthropods. Annelids made up 81% of the benthic organisms found in Cedar Creek, the control creek; 54% of the benthic organisms in Forked River, the intake creek; and 69% of the benthic organisms in Oyster Creek, the discharge creek. Arthropods made up 18% of the benthic organisms in the control creek, 43% of those in the intake creek, and 19% of the organisms in the discharge creek. Mollusks made up 1% of the benthic organisms in the control creek, 3% of those in the intake creek, and 12% of the organisms in the discharge creek.
The arthropods studied in the project were analyzed in three categories. Ostracods were found only in the control creek, where they comprised 59% of the arthropods. Ampelisca comprised 34% of the arthropods in the control creek, and about 45% in each of the reactor creeks. Tenaids comprised 7% of the arthropods in the control creek and about 55% in the two reactor creeks.
I analyzed mollusks in the creeks in two categories: gastropods and bivalves. Gastropods made up most mollusks in the discharge creek and less in the two other creeks. In the control and intake creeks, about two-thirds of mollusks were bivalves; in the discharge creek, about one-fifth of mollusks were bivalves. Also, in the mollusk category, 84% of the gastropods were at the mouth of the intake creek and the head of the discharge creek.
Shannon's Diversity Index shows that the diversity of the benthic communities in the discharge creek was significantly less than in the intake creek. The mouth of the intake creek was significantly more diverse than the other sites studied. The evenness of the creeks shows that the intake creek was significantly less even than that of the other two creeks. Individually, the center and the mouth of the intake creek were significantly less even than those of the other two creeks. The number of types of organisms in the intake creek was significantly higher than in both other creeks.
In addition to a variety of algae, I observed six types of macroorganisms on the biofouling apparatus: barnacles, anemones, mollusks, tube worms, sponges, and sea squirts. Cedar Creek, the control creek, was the only creek in which all six types of organisms were found. Five of the organism types were found in the two reactor creeks, although some were found in those creeks in lower numbers than in the control creek.
Table 1 below is a summary of organisms growing on the biofouling apparatuses. Descriptions are general classifications to provide an overall picture of life in the biofouling community.
Table 1: Biofouling Organisms
|Cedar Creek (Control Creek)||Forked River (Intake Creek)||Oyster Creek(Discharge Creek)|
• Mostly barnacles
• Some opaque algae and short algal growth
• Mostly tube worms, some barnacles and sea squirts
• Patches of opaque algae
• A few barnacles
• Mostly coated with thick brown filamentous algae
• Some barnacles
• Fairly thick coating of slime algal growth
• About even tube worms and barnacles
• Fairly thick coating of opaque algae
• Some barnacles
• Mostly covered with thick brown filamentous algae
• Mostly barnacles, some tube worms
• Filamentous algal growth
• Mostly tube worms, some barnacles
• Many patches of opaque white algae
• Many barnacles
• A lot of thick brown filamentous algae
• Many large barnacles
• Coating of short algal growth
• Some tube worms, a few barnacles.
• A large patch of opaque white algae, several patches of filamentous algae, a coating of short algal growth
• Many large barnacles, some tube worms, a few other species
• Many patches of long filamentous algae
• Many large barnacles, a few tube worms, several other species
• Patches of opaque algae
• Some tube worms, a few barnacles, many other species (very diverse)
• A lot of long filamentous algae, patches of opaque white algae
• Many large barnacles, a few tube worms
• Patches of opaque algae
• About even tube worms and large barnacles, several other species (more diverse)
• Some filamentous algae
• Almost covered with large tube worms
• Large patches of long filamentous algae patches of opaque white algae.
• Although not biofouling organisms, nine starfish on block
• Mostly covered with large barnacles, a few tube worms
• A lot of opaque algae
Water-Quality Data and Microbial Community Analysis
The water quality and microbial data taken as background information did not show any extreme fluctuations between sets. There were small fluctuations that can be attributed to natural variation, but no observed changes were large enough to expect a resulting distortion of the biological data for that set.
In addition to monitoring water quality as background information during this project, I compared the indicators measured both in this project and my previous year's project. Most indicators followed patterns similar to those observed last year. This was especially true for pH, which was very close to last year, and temperature, which was the same as last year, with Oyster Creek being several degrees Celsius warmer than both Forked River and Cedar Creek. Also, although not measured in this year's project, I could clearly tell that velocity in the three creeks followed the same pattern as the previous year; Forked River flowed inland toward the reactor, and both Forked River and Oyster Creek had much faster velocities than the control creek, Cedar Creek.
The control creek had approximately three times as many total plankton as the intake creek, and about 3.75 times as many as the discharge creek. There are several possible explanations. The control creek is a slower-flowing, shallow creek, which could allow more plankton growth, while the intake creek and discharge creeks have been dredged to allow for 4.5 billion liters of water to be pulled through the reactor each day, producing rougher and deeper conditions in those two creeks. The control creek flows out of the pristine Pine Barrens, while Barnegat Bay, which now feeds the intake and discharge creeks, is surrounded by dense development. Another explanation for the lower plankton numbers in the discharge creek is that the reactor may kill most of the plankton taken in from the intake creek, either by heat or velocity, so that when the water is released into the discharge creek, it contains fewer plankton.
The reactor has also changed the composition of diatoms in the creeks, as well as the types of plankton in the "other plankton" category. The relative frequencies of certain types of diatoms in the two reactor creeks were very different from those of the control creek. Also, several types of "other plankton" were much more commonly found in the control creek than in the reactor creeks. A likely explanation is that different species thrive in different environments, and the reactor has altered the environments of the intake and discharge creeks, so that different types of communities grow in those creeks compared to the control creek. The control creek is also more pristine and may allow more types of plankton to flourish. This explanation is supported by comparing the types of organisms in each creek: the control creek had more types of plankton than either reactor creek.
Plankton diversity in the intake creek was lower than in both other creeks, and the evenness of distribution of organisms among species in the control creek was lower than in the reactor creeks. This difference almost certainly results from varying compositions of plankton between the three creeks.
The reactor has altered the creeks' benthic communities. The intake creek had almost six times more benthic organisms as the discharge creek, and twice as many as the control creek. An explanation for the number of organisms in the intake creek is that benthic organisms from the bay are pulled into the creek by the reactor, adding to the existing community. The lack of benthic organisms in the discharge creek is likely the result of the water being heated and treated in the reactor, which decimates the life in the water. Dredging may also have disturbed that benthic community.
The composition of the benthic communities has also changed. Annelids are far more prevalent in the control creek than in either of the reactor creeks. Where they are present in the reactor creeks, they are more dominant in the discharge creek than in the intake creek. There are also differences in the composition of organisms in the annelid category between the control creek and the reactor creeks.
Arthropods make up much more of the benthic organisms in the intake creek than in either other creek. There are also differences in the composition of the arthropods in the creeks. The dominant arthropod in the control creek is not found in either reactor creek. The arthropod that accounts for more than half of the arthropods in both reactor creeks, however, is rarely seen in the control creek. Interestingly, the composition of arthropods in the two reactor creeks is nearly identical, despite a substantial difference in the total numbers of arthropods. This could be because the environments in the reactor creeks allow similar types of arthropods to grow, but the conditions allow more abundance in the intake creek.
The composition of the benthic mollusk population has also been altered by the reactor. Bivalves are much more prevalent in the intake creek than in the other two. Most of the mollusks found in the discharge creek are the snails found at the head of the creek. The prevalence of bivalves in the intake creek, especially at the mouth, suggests that species common to the bay are pulled into the intake creek.
The reactor has reduced the diversity of the intake creek and the evenness of the intake creek. The low diversity in the discharge creek is most likely because few organisms survive in that creek, and the unevenness of the community in the intake creek is probably caused by several species that grow in much higher numbers than other species in that creek.
The reactor has also caused major differences in the biofouling organisms found in the creeks. These can be seen dramatically on the photographs of the biofouling structures placed in the creeks. The control creek has more types of organisms, compared to the small variety of organisms in the discharge creek. This low diversity in the discharge creek—primarily barnacles and long stringy algal growths—is likely a result of the thermal conditions in that creek, which allow only a few species to thrive and grow quickly before other organisms can take hold on the biofouling apparatus.
The head and the center of the intake creek were more diverse than those of the discharge creek, although the biofouling organisms were different from those in the control creek.
The biofouling and benthic communities in the mouth of the intake creek were completely different from any other site studied. The biofouling apparatus was densely covered with large tube worms. There were many starfish on the apparatus. A disproportionate number of bivalves were found in the benthic community. These organisms are much more common in Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and are not typically found in the creeks feeding into the bay. For the benthic populations, the mouth of the intake creek was the most diverse site studied, and also consistently had the greatest number and types of organisms. The explanation is that the water the reactor pulls into the creek also pulls in the bay's benthic organisms, turning the intake creek (especially the mouth) into an arm of the bay.
Although not a part of this research, I think it is important to note that the reactor was built before environmental protection legislation was enacted. The first legislation to address water pollution, the Federal Pollution Control Act, was passed by Congress in 1972. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not exist when the reactor was built; it was created in 1974 and began functioning in 1975.
Oyster Creek has applied for a 20-year license extension. Technology exists to upgrade Oyster Creek and the 33 other boiling-water reactors operating in the United States. This technology would cool the heated water before it is discharged into the surrounding waters. Perhaps such upgrades could be a condition of re-licensing.
In January of this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York State rejected the lenient regulations that the E.P.A. issued in 2004 for older power plants. The court ruled that the E.P.A. must force older plants to protect aquatic life, and that ecosystem impact, not cost, is the most important consideration (Riverkeeper Inc. vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, January 25, 2007).
This ruling, if it withstands further appeal, would seem to require Oyster Creek and other boiling-water reactors to install closed-cycle cooling systems. It has been estimated, and the New York Court considered, that when closed-cycle systems recirculate and cool the water in a cooling tower, the need for water withdrawals from nearby creeks and lakes is cut by 95% (O'Malley, 2007), and fish kills are also reduced by 95% (Court Finds Massive Power Plant Fish Kills, 2007).
I accept my hypothesis that the benthic community would be less numerous and less diverse in the discharge creek, that plankton would be less numerous in the discharge creek, and that the biofouling community in the discharge creek would be less diverse. I reject my hypothesis that plankton would be less diverse in the discharge creek.
The Oyster Creek Nuclear Reactor impacts the benthic communities, biofouling invertebrate organisms, and plankton populations in the reactor's intake and discharge creeks. The Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station has reduced the number and diversity of benthic organisms in the discharge creek, and increased the number, but not the diversity, in the intake creek. The biofouling communities are very different, with low diversity in the discharge creek.
The control creek appears healthier than either of the reactor creeks, as demonstrated by the high plankton counts and greater species richness and abundance. The reactor has greatly reduced the number and diversity of plankton in both the intake and discharge creeks. The control creek has greater diatom diat leastversity and a higher frequency of species reoccurrence.
The reactor raises the temperature in the discharge creek at least 5°C above either the intake creek or the control creek. The reactor pulls water in through the intake creek, reversing its flow and substantially increasing velocity in both creeks. The ecosystem at the mouth of the intake creek has been changed so much that it now appears more similar to Barnegat Bay.
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Roda, Anastasia N. "Human Factor III: The Impact of a Boiling-Water Reactor on Its Intake and Discharge Creeks in a Semi-Eutrophic Estuary." Science research, February 2005.
Thiel, Pamela, and Jennifer Sauer. Macroinvertebrate Monitoring. United States Geological Survey Program Report, 95-P002-2 (Revised 1999).
Vasavada, Jasmine, and Emily Rusch. Unnecessary Risk: The Case for Retiring Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant. New Jersey Law and Policy Center, April 2003. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 2 June 2006. www.njpirg.org.
What Are Phytoplankton? Southeast Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, National Center for Coastal Ocean Science. Retrieved from the World Wide Web on 28 June 2006. http://www.chbr.noaa.gov/pmw.
Dr. Michael J. Kennish, Rutgers University, assisted with the biofouling research design. He also provided advice and guidance throughout the project when specific questions arose. Dr. Pamela Vercellone Smith, Pennsylvania State University, assisted with overall project suggestions. Mrs. Vasantha Kittappa, chair of the Science Department, Lancaster Catholic High School, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the project supervisor.
More About This Resource...
This winning entry in the Museum's Young Naturalist Awards 2007 is from a Pennsylvania 11th grader. Anastasia continued her previous study of a nuclear generating station, this time examing biodiversity and species abundance in its nearby creeks. Her essay includes:
- an overview of the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station and of the previous research projects;
- details about the materials, methods, and procedures she used to examine the biodiversity and species abundance in the reactor's intake and discharge creeks compared to a nearby control creek, Cedar Creek; and
- the results of her investigation, which proved her part of her hypothesis, but not all of it, and a discussion of the reasons why.
Supplement a study of biology with an activity drawn from this winning student essay.
- Send students to this online article, or print copies of the essay for them to read.
- Working alone in or small groups, have students research and report on closed-cycle cooling systems. How do they work? Where are they in use?
OriginYoung Naturalist Awards