December 12, 2018

Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station makes use of a cooling canal system that has been fueling the westward expansion of an underground saltwater plume threatening the region's drinking water supply.

NRC Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station makes use of a cooling canal system that has been fueling the westward expansion of an underground saltwater plume threatening the region's drinking water supply.

HOMESTEAD — The outcome of last week’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing of oral arguments from multiple agencies challenging Florida Power & Light’s subsequent license renewal is pending further review.

After hearing from Nuclear Regulatory Commission legal staff, FPL counsel and attorneys representing Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council and Miami Waterkeeper jointly and petitioner Albert Gomez, collectively referred to as SACE, the independent licensing review panel asked NRC staff attorneys to submit a brief regarding SACE’s concern about what it describes as the nuclear power plant’s “antiquated” cooling canal system.

NRC attorneys told the dais comprised of three judges that a brief of 10 pages or less would be submitted by Dec. 18 as to why an argument had been introduced at the hearing calling for mechanical draft cooling towers, one of SACE’s main contentions with the subsequent license renewal.

In the NRC’s initial written response, it deemed SACE’s demand that FPL replace Turkey Point’s leaky closed-circuit canal system with mechanical draft cooling towers as inadmissible. But the ASLB wants more information.

Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station is located in Homestead on Biscayne Bay.

Diane Curran, an attorney on behalf of SACE, argued that Turkey Point’s cooling canals should be replaced.

“The laws are complex and only admissible contentions are factored in,” she said.

Turkey Point Reactor 3 started operating in 1972 and Reactor 4 followed in 1973, each for a term of 40 years. FPL sought and gained a 20-year extension from the NRC that allows reactors to operate to 2032 and 2033, respectively.

FPL is now seeking a second subsequent license that would allow the two generators to operate until 2052 and 2053.

SACE contends that the Generic Environmental Impact Statement generated by NRC staff for the subsequent license is outdated as it’s set by guidelines established when the initial license renewal request in 1996 was granted.

By the time the license renewals go into effect in 2032-33, the GEIS and the draft environmental impact statement that the subsequent renewals are based upon, will be a decade old, Curran said.

The NRC has an 18-month review period for the Turkey Point’s subsequent license renewal. With seven months into the review, SACE’s Advocacy Director Sara Barczak said, “This is the time to intervene. If these licenses are issued, there’s nothing to stop it.”

“FPL is not in compliance with a number of their permits, and the NRC should be aware of that. They’re not meeting compliancy with the extraction wells within the canals to retract the hypersaline plume that threatens the Biscayne aquifer,” Barczak said.

FPL currently has an injection well system in place to retract an underground hypersaline plume caused by the canal system that is leaching toward the aquifer. The plume must be retracted to the Turkey Point property within 10 years.

“The NRC overlooking the [cooling canal system] is an underlying assumption that the retraction wells will work,” Barczak said.

Curran also said language in the subsequent license renewal draft general environmental impact statement is ambiguous and misleading, often foregoing the word “subsequent,” and that the draft statement should be revised with a clearly stated new scope. And if the language incorporated the word “subsequent,” it would greatly expand the scope of the environmental impact review.

“We are now going to look at 60 years plus 20, not 40 years plus 20,” she said.

SACE contends that allowing the plant to run for an unprecedented 80 years poses risks to the Biscayne Bay and threatens South Florida’s drinking water supply. The environmental group often refers to the CCCS as an “open industrial sewer” as it’s about 10 square miles of closed-circuit water used to cool down the two generators.

SACE will have until Jan. 7 to submit a rebutting brief, 10 pages or less, after NRC submits its brief.

The Monroe County Commission, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce have all written in opposition of the license renewal.

The judges will consider the additional information, and within about a month, they’ll provide their decision, according to NRC spokesman Scott Burnell.

After the NRC environmental staff issues a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the NRC expects to hold another public meeting.