March 13, 2019

SOUTH FLORIDA — An independent panel of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted environmental groups a hearing on Florida Power & Light’s subsequent license renewal request to extend the work life of Turkey Point Reactors 3 & 4 until 2053.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled last Thursday that the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which filed jointly with the Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council and Miami Waterkeeper, had submitted sufficient contentions that FPL failed to consider mechanical draft cooling towers as an alternative to its leaky cooling canal system as a way to mitigate negative impacts to the environment.

During oral arguments heard by the panel in December, Diane Curran, an attorney for SACE, said the last time a generic environmental review was performed was before Turkey Point’s initial license renewal in 1996, which was also before mechanical draft towers were a feasible option, and that not considering the use of such towers now as part of FPL’s subsequent license renewal request is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The leaky cooling canal system has been shown to be contributing to the spread of an underground saltwater plume threatening to pollute the region’s drinking water aquifer.

The impacts of other pollutants also should be considered, according to the ASLB order.

“The environmental review is deficient in its failure to recognize Turkey Point as a source of ammonia in freshwater wetlands surrounding the site and in its failure to analyze the potential impacts of ammonia releases during the renewal period on threatened and endangered species and their critical habitat,” the order states.

The ASLB also agreed to consider the effects of continuing to operate the cooling system on the threatened American crocodile and its critical seagrass habitat.

FPL argued that SACE provided no factual support for any decline in crocodile nest and hatchling numbers in 2015 and 2016.

The Turkey Point canals have long been American crocodile nesting grounds, but SACE contends that FPL failed to study what effects of running the nuclear reactors until 2052 and 2053 could have on the species.

“We are very pleased with this decision. We challenged FPL’s proposal to run Turkey Point for decades longer than anticipated because the plant is not being properly managed. This open industrial sewer is polluting Biscayne Bay and putting South Florida’s critical drinking water supplies at risk today. This cannot continue into the 2050s,” said Sara Barczak, SACE regional advocacy director. “Fortunately, there are practical solutions that can fix this FPL-created mess and it’s long-past time for FPL to right these wrongs and move on.”

FPL spoke to the benefits of nuclear-generated power when asked about the ASLB decision.

“We will continue to work within the NRC process as we seek to extend the production of emissions-free electricity at Turkey Point,” said Peter Robbins, FPL spokesman.

The ASLB order also granted Monroe County’s request to weigh in as an interested governmental participant on the environmental contentions proffered by SACE.

“Monroe County is concerned about the adverse impact of the cooling canal system on the county’s drinking water; and its adverse impact on Biscayne Bay, which will threaten the tourism and fishing industries on which Monroe County’s identity and economy are based,” the order says.

Although the ASLB granted a hearing on the cooling canal system, it denied the NRDC’s contention that FPL’s environmental report overlooks sea-level rise.

tjava@keysnews.com