South Florida elected officials want nuclear regulators to take a harder look at growing concerns over Florida Power & Light’s aging cooling canals at Turkey Point.
On Wednesday evening, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted an annual open house in Homestead intended to answer what nuclear regulators considered a routine year of operations. But local officials, including state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, and Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, were clearly frustrated by the informal format and say the agency needs to hold a formal hearing to review new reports on canal water threatening drinking water supplies and leaking into Biscayne Bay.
People are calling me saying should we stop drinking our water.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava
“There’s a lot of alarm,” Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava told the NRC’s Turkey Point project manager, Audrey Klett. “People are calling me saying should we stop drinking our water.”
Water samples taken in recent months from Biscayne Bay found elevated levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope found in cooling-canal water. While far below levels considered dangerous, the presence of tritium indicates the canals are leaking and may be causing a spike in ammonia, phosphorus and salinity that could harm marine life.
The agency has no plans to hold a hearing on concerns, Klett said. However, requests for a hearing may be submitted until April 6 as part of another review under way in the complicated process of regulating nuclear reactors, she said. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Panel, which is still reviewing a request to permanently increase operating temperatures in the cooling canals, could accept such a request, she said.
The NRC opted to go forward with the open house at a Courtyard Marriott rather than a hearing because agency officials felt the format provided a more open setting to ask questions, said spokesman Roger Hannah. But the two-hour gathering in a conference room was crowded and loud. NRC officials were asked repeatedly to speak up. FPL also sent company officials to answer questions.
In addition to calls for more federal scrutiny, state Sen. Anitere Flores asked Senate President Andy Gardiner Wednesday to create a legislative committee to investigate the recent findings and make recommendations to lawmakers by July.
FPL officials are now working out a plan with county environmental regulators to address the saltwater plume, and on Tuesday won permission from the state Cabinet to begin using up to 14 million gallons a day of water from the Floridan aquifer. The plan, they say, should end the need to use freshwater from a nearby waterway that critics say should not be wasted on the cooling canals.
But critics say adding more water to the unlined canals won’t stop the spread of the saltwater plume threatening freshwater in a region with dwindling supplies.
We had a stopped up radiator.
FPL Senior Director Steve Scroggs
FPL officials also insisted the canals are now under control. Last summer, temperatures never exceeded 98.5 degrees, compared to the summer of 2014 when temperatures hovered over 100 degrees and twice forced plant operators to power down reactors. Since then, workers have scooped up muck that had settled in the bottom of the canals and compounded problems caused by an algae bloom fueled by the hot canal water, said FPL senior director Steve Scroggs.
“We had a lot of sediment that blocked the flow,” he said. “We had a stopped-up radiator.”