October 30, 2007

North Anna Discharge to Continue / Dominion Nuclear Plant Gets New Permit to Release Water Despite Amoeba Concerns


Despite some residents' concerns over a warmth-loving parasite in Lake Anna, a state panel agreed yesterday to continue to allow Dominion Virginia Power to discharge warm water into the lake.

One lake resident called the parasite, Naegleria fowleri, "a brain-eating amoeba," but a top health official said Lake Anna is not warm enough for the common amoeba to thrive and pose a problem.

The State Water Control Board voted 7-0 to renew the discharge permit for Dominion's North Anna nuclear power plant.

The lake is bordered by Louisa, Spotsylvania and Orange counties. It was created by damming the North Anna River in the 1970s, primarily to provide cooling water for the power plant's two reactors.

A series of watery fingers, walled off from the main lake by dikes, serve as lagoons in which the cooling water - which can top 100 degrees after it finishes its cooling work - is discharged. That warm water cools again in the lagoons and eventually re-enters the main lake. The cooling water never comes into contact with radioactive materials.

Thousands of people live along the lagoons, which they call the warm side of the lake. They swim, ski and fish there.

The state does not regulate the temperature of the water Dominion puts into the lagoons, under an agreement with the power company crafted in the mid-1980s.

Harry Ruth, representing the 2,650-member Friends of Lake Anna, said recent lab tests found the parasitic amoeba in the lake. Residents commissioned the tests.

"You've got to put temperature limits" on the water discharges to protect people from the amoeba, Ruth said.

But Dr. Jim Burns, a deputy commissioner in the Virginia Department of Health, said water in the lake does not get warm enough for the parasite to pose a significant health risk.

Water in the main lake can reach the low 90s in summer, and water in the lagoons can get a few degrees warmer.

No one before the board could recall anyone at Lake Anna being infected with the parasite, which can enter through the nostrils, causing brain disease and death.

"Someday we are going to get unlucky, and it'll happen in the lake," but the cases are rare, Burns said.

State officials knew about the amoeba in the 1980s and decided it posed little threat, according to testimony before the board.

Although the state does not limit the temperature of the water going into the lagoons, the state says the water running from the lagoons into the main lake cannot be so warm that it hurts fish.

-- Contact Rex Springston at (804) 649-6453 or [email protected]


Originally published by Times-Dispatch Staff Writer.

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