July 19, 2017

HOMESTEAD — Florida Power & Light’s likelihood of building two planned AP1000 nuclear reactors, known as units 6 and 7, wobbled slightly in its favor last week after a Nuclear Regulatory Commission board approved the utility’s proposal to pump nuclear wastewater from two proposed cooling towers into the boulder zone 3,000 feet below the surface.

The measure has been contested by a number of environmental groups and individuals concerned about chemical contaminants ethylbenzene, heptachlor, tetrachloroethylene and toluene migrating from the boulder zone into the Upper Floridan Aquifer, which supplies water to five states, despite FPL meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “maximum contaminant level goals” placed on these chemicals.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s ruling paperwork states, “The NRC staff concluded that public radiation doses under the proposed deep-well injection process would be so small as to be difficult to measure. Such small doses would have no measurable impact on public health.”

The water FPL plans to use in the cooling towers will be reclaimed or treated wastewater piped from about 9 miles north from the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department’s South District Wastewater Treatment Plant. It’s estimated that 75 million gallons will cycle through each tower four times a day. Water that doesn’t evaporate in the more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit towers will be pumped underground.

FPL plans to ultimately construct 13 deep injection wells at Turkey Point. The construction and operation of these wells are subject to permitting.

FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said, “Everything that we have proposed for this project has been closely monitored and carefully planned. We now await a scheduled mandatory hearing in Rockville, Maryland, and we’re hoping that they issue the license for these reactors by the end of the year or beginning of next.”

National Parks Conservation Association Biscayne Program Manager Caroline McLaughlin staunchly opposes the new reactors and wells.

“Turkey Point is already contaminating the Biscayne Aquifer and Biscayne Bay through radioactive, hypersaline pollution emitted from the plant’s cooling canals,” she said. “Now, plans to inject wastewater underground from the proposed two new units could contaminate the Floridan Aquifer, a future drinking water source for millions of people.

“It is clear that FPL cannot manage the operations of their existing facilities. They shouldn’t be given a green light to continue their bad practices that jeopardize our Biscayne and Everglades National parks, drinking water supply for millions of people, and our billion-dollar tourist economy that depends on a clean, healthy environment.”

In March, the Florida Supreme Court denied FPL’s appeal to overturn a 3rd District Court of Appeal ruling that Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet erred in 2014 by approving FPL’s permit to construct and operate the two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point and install 88 miles of new transmission lines.

As for proposed units 6 and 7, the NRC reviewed Westinghouse’s initial AP1000 design in 2002 and certified them in 2011. Thus far, FPL has NRC design approval only. The utility must apply for state approval once again due to the court ruling, in addition to receiving NRC approval for the nuclear license.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Program Director, Sara Barczak referred to the proposed reactors as a seven-year “David-and-Goliath battle.”

“We are disappointed but not surprised by the board’s decision, which doesn’t change the fact that these expensive, water-intensive reactors at Turkey Point are unneeded and poorly planned,” she said. “In order to know the true risks this project poses to South Florida’s drinking water and Biscayne Bay, seismic reflection studies should be conducted. Given the earliest FPL might bring these reactors online is 2031, doing a thorough analysis today represents not only a common sense approach but it is the right thing to do for the future of South Florida.”

The proposed reclaimed water could also potentially be available to supply cooling water to FPL’s existing Turkey Point Unit 5 combined-cycle natural gas unit, which has contributed to underground saltwater plumes that are less than 10 miles away from the Biscayne Aquifer.

tjava@keysnews.com