Editorials

FPL nuclear plant leak imperils Biscayne Bay

Turkey Point nuclear plant’s cooling canals are contaminated with tritium.
Turkey Point nuclear plant’s cooling canals are contaminated with tritium. AP

The discovery of dirty water contaminated by tritium leaking into Biscayne Bay from the cooling canals at the Turkey Point nuclear plant is the clearest sign yet that FPL and state regulators are doing a poor job of protecting the public.

At this point, there is no reason to panic. But the discovery confirmed by a study represents a sharp indictment of the safety regulation system and deserves the full attention of the utility and government officials at every level — now.

The canary in the coal mine is dying, an alarming sign that something is very wrong and that much worse may be ahead unless corrective action is taken immediately.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that emits a relatively weak form of radiation, found naturally on the planet. Used as a “tracer” element to monitor leaks or spills from nuclear plants, it is not considered hazardous at low levels.

During the testing period, however, tritium at the bottom of the bay close to the canals ranged from more than 130 times to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water. This is far below dangerous levels, experts say, but no one has gauged how much damage has been done to the cooling canal system. It’s certainly bad enough to warrant public concern, though.

South Florida residents have every right to demand that the utility company, the state and local and regional water managers make it their urgent priority to fix the problem. If this doesn’t light a fire under FPL and regulators, we wonder, what will?

They must (1) stop the leaks and (2) determine how much damage the cooling canal system is causing to Biscayne Bay and the Biscayne Aquifer, a major source of South Florida’s drinking water.

The problems at Turkey Point have a troubling history. After the 2013 expansion, FPL had to seek permission from nuclear regulators to operate the canals at 104 degrees, the hottest in the nation. When that produced signs of damage to the eco-system, a new management plan was drawn up, but that didn’t work either.

Last month, Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter ordered FPL and regulators to clean up the canals after finding that they had caused a massive underground saltwater plume, threatening to contaminate drinking water wellfields.

The judge declared that Florida regulators had let the utility off the hook by failing to stop the pollution when the state’s Department of Environmental Protection approved a faulty management plan over the objections of nearby cities and the county.

FPL estimates that it dumps 600,000 pounds of salt daily into the Biscayne aquifer. Yet even so, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection told Judge Canter the state was unable to cite a specific violation. No wonder the judge criticized their performance.

To their credit, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Miami-Dade County Commission have been monitoring this problem for years, demanding that the state do a better job of protecting the public. Last year, the county complained about the state’s inadequate oversight and ordered additional monitoring of bay water, which resulted in the latest report.

FPL officials say their monitoring shows no change in the overall health of the bay, but the latest finding can’t be ignored. County leaders must insist on more-stringent monitoring and better solutions before South Florida turns into another Flint, Michigan.

the Biscayne aquifer. Yet even so, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection told Mr. Canter the state was unable to cite a specific violation. No wonder Judge Canter criticized their performance.

To their credit, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Miami-Dade County Commission have been monitoring this problem for years, demanding that the state do a better job of protecting the public. Last year, the county complained about the state’s inadequate oversight and ordered additional monitoring of bay water, which resulted in the latest report.

The county should keep at it. FPL officials say their monitoring shows no change in the overall health of the bay, but the latest finding can’t be ignored. County leaders must insist on more stringent monitoring and better solutions before South Florida turns into another Flint, Michigan.

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