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Mark Howell's - "View From the Hill"
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Ed Asner Lambasts Turkey Point

'Hello friends. I'm Ed Asner and I'm here to speak to you directly about an issue of vital importance that impacts all of us. This is an issue that will cost you money. And might just cost you your life. This is the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant."

On the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear multi-reactor disaster, which is today, March 11, Ed Asner is starring in a short film called "Boondoggle" that takes an active position on the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant located in Homestead, 128 miles from Key West.

The 11-minute movie, directed by Nick Katzenbach and written by Nick with his father, the novelist John Katzenbach, is produced by the Sierra Club. Executive producer is Key West's own Harvey Rochman.

The Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station was commissioned 39 years ago. "As power plants go," says Asner as the film begins, "it's an antique. I'd like to say it's a Model T nuclear plant -- but that wouldn't be right. It's a lot closer to horse and buggy." And, he adds, "It has been fined 14 times for safety violations despite constant efforts to provide upkeep and modernize it. Nine times it has leaked radioactivity into the water. But it's still on line. Creaking and limping along.

"Now its owners want to build two new nuclear power plants, right next door."

Ed Asner, 82, is a friend of executive producer Rochman, as he is of Solares Hill and Key West; we have interviewed TV's former curmudgeon Lou ("I hate spunk!") Grant about his public-spirited activism and life in the Keys a number of times over the years. "I fear for the Keys," he told us Wednesday.

Just back from Hawaii, where he's been reprising -- for a movie version, 37 years later -- his original role as a character called August March in TV's "Hawaii Five-0," Ed spoke with us from Birmingham, Alabama, where he's currently presenting his one-man show, "FDR." ("Oh, where is he now?" he asks about President Roosevelt.)

Ed was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family; his Russian-born parents ran a second-hand shop in Kansas City. As well as being an actor, he was for many years president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Here's the background on Turkey Point: Owned by Florida Power and Light (FPL), it's a twin-reactor nuclear power station 25 miles south of Miami, built next to Biscayne National Park on a 3,300-acre spit of land in the ocean.

In 1992 it took a direct hit from Hurricane Andrew, the eye of the storm sustaining winds up to 145 mph and gusts of 175 mph -- the first time that a hurricane significantly impacted a commercial nuclear power plant. Damage included loss of all offsite power for more than five days, complete loss of communication systems, closing of the access road and damage to the fire protection, security systems and warehouse facilities. Onsite damage was limited to fire protection, security and several non-safety-related systems and structures. There was also minor water intrusion and some damage to insulation and paint but no radioactive release to the environment. The plant kept going on equipment less powerful than an iPad2.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates the risk of an earthquake intense enough to cause core damage to the twin reactor at Turkey Point reactor as 1 in 100,000. Emergency planning zones are limited to a plume pathway with an evacuation radius of 10 miles to avoid inhalation of airborne radioactive contamination and zone of 50 miles for ingestion of any food or liquid.

The two new reactors that FPL intends to add to Turkey Point are estimated to cost $35 billion.

"And you know who is going to pay for them?" asks Asner in "Boondoggle. "You.

"And you know who's going to make money off of these new reactors? Not you. Them."

Under the financing system FPL has proposed, the cost of the new reactors would be borne by an additional charge on power bills each month. But FPL has told regulators and legislators it intends to sell the extra power generated to other energy companies elsewhere.

"That's a helluva deal," comments Asner. "You pay, they profit."

Last week Solares Hill asked the co-writer of "Boondoggle," John Katzenbach, if he personally feared nuclear power. "I personally fear the risk of human error," he responded. "And I fear that the further destruction of natural resources by an expanded Turkey Point would outweigh the financial rewards bestowed upon the powers-that-be at Florida Power & Light and their shareholders."

We also communicated with Bradley Starke, an environmental attorney and member of Sierra Club who became involved in the film because, as he told us, "This Turkey Point project truly is a boondoggle! The bottom line is that these proposed reactors are a new design. We do not know how many millions of gallons of water they will use for cooling, whether saltwater from the sea or freshwater from the aquifer. Nor do we really know how much these reactors will cost."

The best part of "your whole story," insisted Starke, is the emergence of Nick Katzenbach. "He did a great job of editing, directing, producing, you name it." Asner himself tells us he considers Katzenbach's work on the film "noble."

Nick Katzenbach was born and raised in South Florida. Today he's a teacher in Massachusetts. "One of the nice parts about teaching," he told Solares Hill, "is you get the summers off to explore other passions. For me that's film making, so when I got the opportunity to do a short about Turkey Point with Ed Asner, I jumped at it.

"Ed is just a wonderful guy. He's smart, funny, intellectual and quick-witted. It was inspiring to work with an iconic actor and activist." And one with an unmatched sense of humor. When the crew brought him coconut water to fill a glass at his side while they filmed, "he dutifully said he'd try it," reports Nick. "Then started fake-choking like he was having an allergic reaction. We thought we'd poisoned our star.

"Ed's a blast. My only regret is I didn't figure out how to schedule a shoot at Sloppy Joe's on a Saturday night. We'll make sure to do that on our next film."

To view the movie, Google: Boondoggle Starring Ed Asner YouTube.