BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
tohara@keysnews.com

Monroe County commissioners say two new nuclear reactors should not even be considered at Turkey Point nuclear power plant until Florida Power and Light has resolved the issue of a plant-induced saltwater plume threatening the Florida Keys’ freshwater supply.

The county commissioners’ statements come as the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that a cooling system for two new reactors at the plant just north of Monroe County would not damage the mangroves, wetlands and other sensitive South Florida ecosystems


, according to a lengthy 1,200-page review.

FPL is looking to expand the plant’s capacity despite having to spend millions of dollars to resolve issues which could lead to the contamination of the Keys’ water supply.

The plant’s cooling canals have created a saltwater plume, which is within 10 miles of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority well field in the Biscayne Aquifer.

The Biscayne Aquifer, a shallow 4,000-square-mile underground body of freshwater, provides 17 million gallons of drinking water a day for the Florida Keys.

Plans approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection call for a deep injection well to flush the plume thousands of feet below the ground, long-term monitoring of the plume and requires progress retracting it within the next three to five years.

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, who represents the Upper Keys, does not support the expansion of the plant, but doubted the project would be approved and/or completed.

“They have too many hurdles to jump through,” Murphy said. “I’m not that worried, but I hope they (regulators) don’t allow it.”

County Mayor Heather Carruthers would also like to see progress on the cleanup effort before any kind of approval would be granted.

She said she would like to see FPL use a different cooling system for all of the reactors, not just the new ones, and eliminate the cooling canals entirely.

FPL plans on using cooling towers for the two proposed reactors. 

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Tropical Audubon Society filed a lawsuit against FPL claiming the utility has violated the Clean Water Act because of the problems with the cooling system. The Southern Alliance has questioned FPL’s cleanup plans and has called on FPL to replace its leaking cooling canal system with a series of cooling towers.

Laura Reynolds, a representative for the Alliance, argued that despite using cooling towers for the two new reactors, FPL should not be allowed to expand the plant because it will require too much water and back up water supplies that could impact Biscayne Bay National Park and other aquatic reserves.

“I am baffled by that decision,” Reynolds said of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s finding. “This is in direct conflict with Everglades restoration. ...They (FPL) should look at renewables.”

FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said that water for the cooling towers could come from reclaimed water that Miami-Dade County is currently treating and dumping in outfalls into the ocean.

Robbins argued that there are environmental benefits to nuclear energy.

“We believe in being environmental stewards,” Robbins said. “Nuclear does not produce greenhouse gases.”

However, Reynolds argued that FPL does not plan to start using reclaimed water at the plant until 2031, at the earliest.

The plant expansion still faces more hearings and approvals by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There will be an upcoming hearing in Washington, D.C. and another one in Homestead in April, Robbins said.

An approval could be issued as early as the fall of 2017, Robbins said. FPL does not have a timeline for construction. The company is currently monitoring the construction of two other nuclear reactor projects in South Carolina and Georgia, Robbins said.