Miami-Dade County

NRC sets March 30 meeting on Turkey Point, will answer questions about canals

The cooling canal system at Turkey Point nuclear power plant east of Homestead is under increasing scrutiny.
The cooling canal system at Turkey Point nuclear power plant east of Homestead is under increasing scrutiny. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

The federal agency that oversees the nation's nuclear power plants will hold a public meeting in Homestead next week to discuss operations at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant — an annual safety review where questions about the plant’s leaky cooling canal system are likely to come up.

A county study released this month found increased levels of tritium, a radioactive “tracer” monitored to detect leaks, in Biscayne Bay. Another report by a University of Miami scientist also confirmed a plume from the canals spreading west into the Biscayne Aquifer. The ongoing problems with the cooling canals have sparked a lawsuit and public reaction.

Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the March 30 open house meeting was already scheduled as part of an annual assessment and although no formal presentations about the canals or tritium are planned, the agency would be prepared to address questions from the public.

He also said the NRC has not called for increased scrutiny or inspections for the power plant on southern Biscayne Bay.

“The NRC has consistently found that the Turkey Point environmental monitoring program meets all regulatory requirements and that the plant has not violated any regulatory limits for releases of radioactive materials, including tritium,” Hannah said.

The announcement of the meeting comes a day after the Tropical Audubon Society and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said they planned to sue Florida Power & Light over ongoing problems with the cooling canal system.

The groups, in a formal notice of intent to sue, argue that polluted canal water has seeped into the bay and the aquifer — the county’s main source of drinking water — in violation of the U.S. Clean Water Act. They also complain that federal and state environmental regulators have not done enough to address problems of overheating in the massive canal system.

The controversy over the 40-year-old canals erupted in summer 2014 when water temperatures soared in the canals, spawning algae booms and threatening to shut down the plant’s two nuclear reactors.

The utility blamed a drought and hot weather and has said it has worked with regulators to address the issues and stabilize the cooling canal system. But critics say the cooling canal problems arose after FPL overhauled two reactors to increase the power out.

Earlier this month, Miami-Dade County released a study showing water samples taken from the bay found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in the ocean. The tritium, at concentrations well below federal environmental and health standards, is an indicator that the canals are spreading potentially damaging pollutants like ammonia and phosphorous into surrounding waters and the aquifer.

In February, a judge in Tallahasee ordered the utility and the state to clean up the nuclear plant’s cooling canals after determining that they had caused a massive underground saltwater plume to migrate west, threatening a wellfield that supplies drinking water to the Florida Keys. The judge also found that the state failed to address the pollution by crafting a faulty management plan.

The meeting is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. March 30 at the Courtyard by Marriott, 2905 NE Ninth St., Homestead.

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