Law 360: Alarms raised over nuclear plant’s water pollution

Officials and the public called for action Tuesday following the release of a report that provided increased evidence that water from cooling canals for Florida Power & Light Co.’s Turkey Point nuclear plant is polluting the Biscayne Aquifer and Biscayne National Park.

Increased levels of radioactive materials in Biscayne Bay, incredibly high salinity levels and harmful algae bloom caused by other chemicals and heightened temperature levels pose a serious threat to the fragile coastal ecosystem in the area and the freshwater drinking supply that serves more than 3 million people in the greater Miami area, according to the latest findings of the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, county commissioners and county Mayor Carlos Gimenez requested meetings and more detailed progress reports on the issue and said they are committed to securing a long-term solution, as they discussed the latest report and also reviewed and adopted another they had commissioned from the University of Miami.

“The reality is that water is a no-touch subject in our county,” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said. “We as a county have to protect the most important treasure that we have.”

Gimenez said the cooling canal system is one that would not be approved today or for two new reactors FPL has gained state approval to build, and said it is time to move forward with a long-term solution and “enter the 21st century.”

Public speakers — representing environmental groups, interested businesses and the general public — urged the county to issue a notice of violation to the utility to compel steps to halt and remediate the damage, which the studies trace to FPL being allowed to modify equipment starting in 2012 that “uprated” Turkey Point to increase production by 15 percent.

“This study confirms that FPL miscalculated the impact uprating Turkey Point’s reactors to generate more power would cause. So this self-inflicted emergency has caused uncontrollable temperatures and an algal bloom and very high salinities,” Laura Reynolds of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said in statement that closely echoed her comments to the commission. “And FPL’s self-prescribed remedy for this emergency, sanctioned by the [Florida] Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management, has now moved that plume into the surface waters of a national park further violating the law.”

State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, issued a statement saying it is time for federal intervention, calling upon the Environmental Protection Agency to take emergency remedial action in light of the county’s finding that levels of tritium, an isotope of hydrogen being used as a tracer to track the cooling canal water, is present in Biscayne Bay at 215 times the levels typically found in the ocean.

“Enough is enough,” Rodriguez said. “For years our state regulators have failed to take seriously the threat to our public safety, to our drinking water and to our environment posed by FP&L’s actions at Turkey Point. Evidence revealed this week of radioactive material in Biscayne Bay is the last straw, and I join those calling on the U.S. EPA to step in and do what our state regulators have so far refused to do — protect the public.”

FPL has been working with county environmental officials since October under a consent agreement reached after the county issued a notice of violation regarding pollution outside of the power plant’s property.

Answering questions from Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who had requested the county report in December, DERM Assistant Director Lee Hefty said preliminary tests have been completed on the first of a planned series of extraction pumps intended to pull the hypersalinated water from the Biscayne Aquifer to be disposed of via deep well injection.

FPL estimates that Turkey Point spews out 600,000 pounds of salt a day, while the South Florida Water Management District said it may be closer to 3 million pounds.

Further enforcement action appears likely, Hefty told the commissioners, and another consent agreement could be reached if FPL again expresses willingness to cooperate.

At Tuesday’s meeting, FPL environmental services director Matt Raffenberg said the utility is truly behind the consent agreement and has worked hard to already reduce the salinity and algae in the cooling canals to 2015 levels.

“As a company, we have been very focused on this as far back as 2010 to collect the data so we could make informed decisions about how to improve the water quality in the canals and the groundwater,” he told the commissioners.

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