August 9, 2017

HOMESTEAD — Florida Power & Light’s motion to dismiss a Clean Water Act lawsuit calling for the Turkey Point nuclear power plant to stop discharging industrial wastewater into Biscayne Bay and the Biscayne Aquifer through its leaky cooling canal system was heard last Thursday by U.S. District Court Magistrate Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes. Her recommendation is still pending.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Tropical Audubon Society, which filed the federal lawsuit in March 2016, wants FPL to replace its 9-mile network of “antiquated” cooling canals with mechanical draft cooling towers that would fix the problem.

SACE Executive Director Stephen Smith said he is expecting a ruling by the end of August and remains cautiously optimistic for a hearing next spring. 

FPL’s Vice President of Environmental Services Mike Sole said the company has been working with several government agencies to address the hyper-saline salt plumes. The underground plumes are slowly stretching inward to where they could threaten to contaminate the region’s source of drinking water, the Biscayne Aquifer.

“We had been working with all the government agencies, which SACE never challenged nor participated in. We have have brought online robust corrective solutions to these problems,” Sole said. “We are going to pull the entire hyper-saline plume back through our recovery well strategy.”

The company has been installing recovery wells along the perimeters of the cooling canal system to draw back roughly 15,000 gallons of hyper-saline water a day that will be sent 3,000 feet below the surface into the boulder zone where it’s hyper-saline already.

“By the beginning of next year, we hope to implement completely the recovery wells,” Sole said.

He added, “We are addressing the dead-end canals as it’s a prudent thing to do, and it would eliminate the lack of flushing and improve water quality. We are working next on Turtle Point and the Turning Basin, and we are going to shallow that up as well.”

Reports by the Miami-Dade County Division of Environmental Resource Management and the University of Miami released last year show Turkey Point’s leaky cooling canal system discharges a slew of pollutants into surrounding waters.

The cooling canals are generating a hyper-saline plume that includes ammonia, phosphorus, nitrogen and tritium, which is radioactive but poses little risk at low levels.

According to SACE, there is clear evidence of contamination of the surface waters of Biscayne National Park caused by Turkey Point’s discharge.

“It’s effectively an open industrial sewer,” Smith alleges.

FPL estimates that the canals discharge at least 600,000 pounds of salt and other contaminants directly into the Biscayne Bay on a daily basis through the cooling canal system.

In 2008, the company received approval from the state to modify its plant to increase its power generating capacity. A stipulation of the approval required FPL to tightly monitor the impact on the surrounding water quality, and in 2010, documentation confirmed that FPL’s porous cooling canals were discharging into both the surface waters of Biscayne Bay and the groundwaters.

By 2014, the salinity levels in the cooling canal system reached a record high of 100 practical salinity units, or 3 times higher than the normal Biscayne Bay levels. The water also got hotter and exceeded the federal limit of 100 degrees F by 2 degrees but was granted approval for an operating temperature limit of 104 degrees by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“There is nobody else in the world that is using a cooling canal system like FP&L — nowhere. This is truly a unique phenomenon and it is failing. Building mechanical draft cooling towers is the way to cool water,” Smith said during a press conference.

SACE contracted Bill Powers, of Powers Engineering in San Diego, to look at cooling towers for Units 3 and 4. He estimated costs at $220 million to $310 million for both, depending on the size and design details, and said they could be operational within four years once permits and approvals are obtained.

FPL engineered mechanical drafting towers for its proposed AP1000 reactors known as Units 6 and 7. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board approved the measure to pump its nuclear wastewater 3,000 feet below the surface into the boulder zone.

Last week, Santee Corporation and SCANA delivered a blow to the U.S. nuclear industry when it pulled the plug on building two new AP1000 reactors in South Carolina and two in Georgia despite being a decade into the project. The decision came in the wake of Westinghouse, Toshiba Corporation’s nuclear building division, filing bankruptcy in March. The Japanese company is the only manufacturer of AP1000s.

tjava@keysnews.com