Laura Reynolds was the former Executive Director of Tropical Audubon and is now a consultant representing the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Today, as expected, the Governor and his Cabinet unanimously approved the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) plan to add more water to the cooling canal system at Turkey Point, operated by Florida Power and Light (FPL). (See Siting Board agenda here, Item 2.) By approving the modification of the Power Plant Siting Act, it effectively allows FPL to legally add more water to continue the purging of pollution into the surrounding area. This is an unlined, antiquated cooling system on top of porous limestone on the shores of Biscayne National Park.
The addition of more water will continue purging pollution into the Biscayne Aquifer and adjacent Biscayne National Park. The pollution has been documented for years by regulators and goes into more detail in a recent Miami Dade County Report and an ongoing University of Miami study that found elevated levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope that comes from nuclear power production, in groundwater 4.7 miles west of the facility and 2.1 miles east – showing that the wastewater from the Turkey Point plant is migrating many miles offsite in all directions. Tritium acts as a fingerprint or tracer – tracking the point source pollution back to Turkey Point’s cooling canal system.
The wastewater plume and what is causing it has been documented, the results of which DEP and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) appear to be ignoring. These agencies are supposed to protect the environment and water supply for the people of Florida. FPL has masterfully compartmentalized all of the requests it makes from regulators and what seems to be happening legally is that decision makers are having to put on blindfolds to published facts and information while they consider small incremental asks, like today’s request for more water, as stand-alone issues. We need leadership here and for someone to step up and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
The Turkey Point power plant is a sprawling complex with two currently operating nuclear reactors and five total power-generating units, not all of which are operating today, about 25 miles south of Miami. Turkey Point is the only nuclear power plant in the country near two national parks, the Everglades and Biscayne, which is using this type of antiquated cooling system (pictured).
The industrial wastewater that runs through two of the units leaking into the Biscayne Aquifer is not a new problem – it’s been known for at least a decade. But new data shows a direct connection between the groundwater plume from the cooling canal system and the surface waters of Biscayne National Park.
Drinking Water in Peril
Water is the lifeblood of south Florida. These unpermitted releases of industrial wastewater from the reactors pose a danger to Miami-Dade County’s sole source of drinking water, the Biscayne Aquifer, and to the fragile ecosystem of Biscayne National Park. The leak is exacerbating saltwater intrusion towards Miami-Dade County’s drinking water wells. South Floridians are investing billions of tax dollars in Everglades Restoration to help communities struggling with saltwater intrusion and sea level rise. The reactors’ cooling canal system is loading at least 600,000 more pounds of salt daily and up to high as 3 million pounds per day, which is in direct conflict with restoration goals.
National Park in Peril
The pollutants leaking into Biscayne National Park pose a danger to the park’s ecosystem. This park is the largest marine park in the National Park system and it has the longest stretch of mangrove forest remaining on Florida’s east coast. It also boasts the only living tropical coral reef system in the continental United States. Ecologists know that without any other pollutants, just high chloride levels alone lowers the number of species that can live in Biscayne National Park. The National Park is concerned because they are charged with protecting these species for future generations.
Instead of stopping the leaks, mitigating the damages, and finding clean, less risky energy sources that conserve our precious water resources, FPL has increased the reactors’ output so they now run hotter, longer and harder. This has effectively made a bad problem worse and the self-proscribed remedy to fix the issue was simply to dilute the pollution and purge it out of the cooling canals, so that they run properly.
Continued Failure to Fix the Problems
Let’s ask ourselves why won’t the company just install new technologies to fix the problem? FPL came up with a list of 150 ways they could fix this, but of course all were more expensive than what they are doing now. And because of the lobby power this company has, regulators and many elected officials have turned a blind eye to the problem.
In 2014 the Department of Environmental Protection and South Florida Water Management District encouraged and permitted FPL to add billions of gallons of fresh water in 2015, which added over 8 cubic feet of weight to the top of the cooling canals. Consequently, FPL “flushed” the pollution in a large pulse into the surface waters of Biscayne National Park as a result. The levels of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, have been recorded thousands of times higher than what normal background levels should be in the surface waters of Biscayne National Park.
Taking Action – SIGN PETITION
With the regulatory safety net broken in Florida, citizens are left trying to hold FPL accountable to the high standards necessary to protect the national park, our safety and our drinking water. FPL customers don’t want more broken promises about potentially fixing the continuing problems at Turkey Point, they want action. It’s time FPL and our regulators put utility customers, Floridians and the environment over profit.
As far as future energy production for Florida, we do not aim to shut down this plant, but we do aim to stop future nuclear expansion of Turkey Point because of the high risks: the skyrocketing costs when more affordable energy choices exist, the enormous amount of water it would consume and because of the environmental and public health and safety impacts that Floridians cannot afford. Let’s all take a hard look at replacing this antiquated cooling technology and moving towards clean, safe energy solutions.