Environment

Should FPL retire its cooling canals? Report makes the case

The FPL nuclear energy plant at Turkey Point, Monday, March 28, 2016. Pictured in the center of the photo are Turkey Point’s two oil/natural gas-fired generation units (Units 1 and 2) and to the right in the photo are the two nuclear Westinghouse pressurized water reactors (Units 3 and 4). Unit 2 was in the process of being disassembled.
The FPL nuclear energy plant at Turkey Point, Monday, March 28, 2016. Pictured in the center of the photo are Turkey Point’s two oil/natural gas-fired generation units (Units 1 and 2) and to the right in the photo are the two nuclear Westinghouse pressurized water reactors (Units 3 and 4). Unit 2 was in the process of being disassembled. emichot@miamiherald.com

Florida Power & Light should retire its miles of cooling canals used to cool its Turkey Point nuclear power plant, and replace them with cooling towers that release less pollution into South Florida waterways and use less fresh water, a clean-energy group argued Thursday as part of its campaign to force the utility to reform its practices.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which is suing FPL for violating the Clean Water Act, suggests that if the state’s largest electric company replaces its one-of-a-kind canal network, the switch would help Miami-Dade County meet its goal of recycling wastewater and reduce the threat to South Florida’s drinking water supply.

The estimated cost of the change: $59 million to $79 million per year over a 10-year period, an increase of 1.5 percent to 2 percent in the energy costs charged to customers, said Bill Powers, of San Diego-based Powers Engineering, which produced the report for SACE. The project would take about four years to complete, he said.

County environmental regulators have found that the saltier, heavier water flowing from FPL’s nuclear plant through more than 5,900 acres of canals has leaked downward, pushing a line of saltwater inland toward South Florida’s drinking water supply. Regulators also have discovered canal water, laced with non-threatening amounts of radioactive tritium, has leaked into Biscayne Bay.

Replacing the cooling canals with cooling towers is a “no-regret system,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director for SACE, an organization that calls the cooling canals “an open industrial sewer, wedged between two national parks.”

The proposal to retire the cooling canals adds ammunition to a resolution passed unanimously by the Miami-Dade County Commission last week asking FPL to stop using the troubled canal system by 2033.

FPL has not agreed to the county’s request. In June it signed a consent order with the state agreeing to clean up the canals within 10 years but keep them operating.

After that, if the company seeks to renew its license for the current nuclear reactors beyond 2033, FPL will consider “any potential alternative cooling technologies, which would logically include cooling towers,” said Peter Robbins, manager of nuclear communications for FPL.

Robbins blasted SACE as an “anti-utility, anti-nuclear political group” that should “not be trusted.”

Powers’ report notes that cooling tower technology is already being used by FPL at its Unit 5, a natural gas plant at the Turkey Point site, and FPL proposed building two cooling towers as a way to handle the heated discharge from two new nuclear units it is proposing to build in the future at Turkey Point, Units 6 and 7.

Miami-Dade County is under a state requirement to recycle 117.5 million gallons of water a day by 2025. The SACE plan calls for replacing the fresh water with reclaimed water, similar to a system that has been in operation for 30 years at the largest nuclear plant in the world, the Palo Verde Nuclear plant near Phoenix, Powers said.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

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