June 6, 2018

HOMESTEAD — The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking public comment last week on Florida Power & Light’s license renewal request for Turkey Point nuclear reactors 3 and 4 mainly heard complaints from citizens, environmental agencies and energy watchdogs about the facility’s roughly 11 miles of leaky cooling canals. 

FPL submitted the application for a second license renewal with the NRC in January to operate its Westinghouse AP1000 reactors for an additional 20 years starting from their expiration dates of 2032 and 2033, respectively.

NRC environmental project manager assigned to Turkey Point, William “Butch” Burton, said the NRC would be issuing unbiased and independent safety and environmental reports at their conclusion, and public input would be accepted until June 21 by mail or electronically at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID: NRC-2018-0101. 

He said the NRC’s Final Supplemental Environmental Review also will be subject to public comment, a second opportunity for input.

The public flooded to the dais to call for FPL to address the hypersaline plume that threatens the Biscayne Aquifer, which supplies the South Florida region with drinking water. The underground plume is fueled by the leaking cooling canal system.

Albert Gomez, a Biscayne Bay resident, complained that the NRC had already allowed FPL to continue to operate the two reactors with the cooling canals reaching temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which breached NRC safety protocols that put the maximum allowed temperature at 100 degrees. 

“The higher temperatures attributed to this plume, and it’s unclear what they’ve done to address this,” he said. 

FPL has built retraction wells to pull that saltwater back so it can be flushed deep into the boulder zone.

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.

Gomez demanded mitigation to address rising sea levels to prevent a disaster like the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear meltdown when the generators, which were supposed to cool down the reactors after a power failure, drowned along with its seawater pumps.

Southern Alliance of Clean Energy advocate Zachariah Cosner said Turkey Point must be required to replace the canal system with cooling towers, which are used at most modern nuclear power generating plants.

“Cooling towers, this is the only way to make sure that this system doesn’t implicate human health,” Cosner said. “It can be erected at sea level. I urge you to implore FPL to engage in this system.”

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s Deputy Director of Operations Kent Nelson spoke on behalf of the Keys water utility, which draws its potable water from the Biscayne Aquifer. 

“Turkey Point is under a consent order to draw back its plume,” he said. “Our concern is that the model that the consent order was built upon is outdated. Turkey Point must prove that it will draw back the plume and provide a completion date of when it will be retracted. It’s taken them this long to implement, and contrary to the modeling, there is no implication that their remediation efforts have worked.” 

Nelson called for FPL to remediate the hypersaline plume within a specified completion date or to decommission the canals and erect the cooling towers. 

“The retraction wells are operating,” Dan Orr, NRC’s senior resident inspector told the gathering. “They [FPL] met the May 15 compliance date.”

Laura Reynolds, a SACE advocate, asked the commission to extend the public input window.

“The canals are built on limestone, it’s very transmissive and it’s porous. Make sure the report shows this. There is info out there that isn’t being looked at,” she said.

NRC could reach a final decision of the license renewal request by October 2019, unless a hearing is approved, according to NRC spokesman Scott Burnell. 

A person or group has to meet two basic criteria to be granted a hearing: standing or admissible contention.

The NRC considers a person living within 50 miles of a plant requesting a licensing action to have the legal standing to request a hearing. A group can identify one of its members who lives within 50 miles to reach the same goal. Government bodies can prove standing in other ways.

A person or group asking for a hearing also must offer a legitimate legal argument that falls under the NRC’s authority for the relevant licensing action, such as the license renewal application fails to account for the impacts on a certain endangered species.

Turkey Point Reactor 3 started operating in 1972, with Reactor 4 following in 1973. 

“In the case of subsequent license renewal, a nuclear power plant will already have in place the procedures to account for operation from 40 to 60 years, so applying for a renewal from 60 to 80 can take place once the plant goes past 40 years of operation,” Burnell said. 

As to why FPL has applied so far ahead of the reactors’ expiration dates, FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said there are planning and cost benefits to doing so.

“FPL is a forward-thinking company and receiving renewed licenses at Turkey Point would give FPL certainty to be able to engage in long-term resource planning,” Cruz said. “The initiative also saves FPL customers over $2 billion compared to the next best alternative.”

Sara Barczak, SACE’s regional director, surmises that proposed AP1000 reactors 6 and 7 are not likely to be built, and consequently, FPL needs a method for providing power to the South Florida region.  

tjava@keysnews.com