Nuclear regulators to hear dispute over cooling canals at Turkey Point reactors

Nuclear regulators this week ordered a hearing over contentious plans to keep Turkey Point’s 1970s-era reactors and troubled cooling canals operating until the early 2050s.

While regulators dismissed many of the complaints raised by environmentalists, including whether Florida Power & Light used adequate sea rise projections, regulators agreed to hear arguments over whether FPL fully considered cooling towers as an alternative to the plant’s cooling canals, now in the midst of a $200 million clean-up effort.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board also agreed to hear arguments over whether the canals could impact endangered crocodiles, which build nests along the canal banks, and whether ammonia found in canal water is harming other threatened and endangered species.

No hearing date has yet been set, said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.

Solar advocates and environmentalists have repeatedly challenged the ongoing use of the canals, which have leaked into Biscayne Bay and helped spread a saltwater plume threatening drinking water wellfields.

“This open industrial sewer is polluting Biscayne Bay and putting South Florida’s critical drinking water supplies at risk today — this cannot continue into the 2050s,” Sara Barczak, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said in a statement. The group, along with Miami Waterkeeper and the Natural Resources Defense Council, has challenged the request.

FPL said it was continuing to work with the nuclear regulators on its extension request “as we seek to extend the production of emissions-free electricity at Turkey Point,” and said the public would have a chance to participate in the relicensing request.

“This is similar to the process applied in the Turkey Point Units 6 & 7 licensing that successfully concluded last year,” spokesman Peter Robbins said in a statement.

FPL has asked regulators to allow the reactors to operate 80 years, to the early 2050s. The request is the first among the nation’s aging nuclear fleet and may serve as a test case for other plants also hoping to extend licenses. Turkey Point is the only nuclear plant to use cooling canals, and environmentalists have repeatedly demanded that the utility switch to cooling towers. They have also complained that sea levels projected to rise nearly three feet by 2060 could put the bayside reactors in jeopardy.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is also now considering issuing a new pollution permit for the canals, the first in more than a decade.

“The board’s failure to consider the specific impacts of sea level rise on this extraordinarily vulnerable facility is deeply troubling,” Miami Waterkeeper director Rachel Silverstein said in a statement. “This is not just a Miami issue, it’s an issue … setting precedent for aging plants across the country.”