Built in 1971, the Turkey Point Power Plant sits directly on the shores of Biscayne Bay in between Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park-- and atop the Biscayne aquifer, porous limestone that is South Florida’s primary source of drinking water. In the 1970’s, water used to cool the nuclear core was drawn from Biscayne Bay, was heated by the reactor, and discharged at high temperature back into the Bay. Realizing this was harming the Bay’s seagrass and fish, the Department of Justice required that a “closed loop” cooling system be built. Florida Power & Light (FPL), constructed miles of unlined cooling canals that act as a giant radiator to cool the reactor. It is now understood that the cooling canal system is not a “closed loop”, but, due to the porous nature of our limestone and transmissivity of water through it, the canal’s contaminated industrial waste and large amounts of salt in the cooling canals are sinking into the porous aquifer below. However, over the years this supposedly “closed loop” canal system has had severe impacts on the surrounding environment. This hypersaline plume has spread for miles from FPL’s property, through the Biscayne Aquifer, and continues to move at a rate of over a foot a day. The County and several other groups sued over the plume’s spread, but most have now settled. The County agreed to let FPL try to extract the plume via a series of extraction wells at the western side of the canal system. It is unclear whether these will work to stop the plume, or even possibly hasten the plume spread. The plume is currently moving towards the drinking water wellfield for the entire Florida Keys.
In 2016, Miami-Dade County recognized that the cooling canal system pollution was also reaching Biscayne Bay. The Miami-Dade County Commission passed a resolution stating their intent to urge FPL to adopt cooling towers by 2032. However, FPL applied for an operating license extension for the plants until 2052 -- without cooling towers. The County did not object.
However, now the County has agreed to work on a wastewater reclamation project to provide FPL with cleaner, fresher water for the canals, while helping the county meet its state-mandated requirement to both stop using ocean outfalls for wastewater effluent, and to recycle 60% of wastewater used in the County. The proposed reclaimed wastewater project may lessen the salinity of the plume but may also increase water pressure in the canals, which could push the cooling canal water further and faster into the aquifer and the Bay.
Critically, because we know that the cooling canals are hydrologically connected to the Bay and to the Aquifer, if the reuse water is not treated to meet Biscayne Bay anti-degradation standards, the cooling canal system pollution of the local environment will only worsen. FPL has now begun designing this plant—before any standards are determined. Failing to clean reclaimed wastewater to these standards will not just continue contamination; it will also result in the County missing out on a transformative opportunity to fundamentally improve the health of Biscayne Bay by adding more freshwater water that is desperately needed through wetland rehydration and aquifer recharge, which will provide multiple benefits for the region from safeguarding our drinking water supply, flooding risk, tourism and recreation improvement, and ecosystem restoration.
These reactors were slated for decommissioning in 2033, but currently, FPL is attempting to get an unprecedented second extension of the reactors’ operating licenses for an additional 20 years, until 2052. Turkey Point is already highly susceptible to flooding and storm surge, and the most conservative projections from the Army Corps of Engineers show chronic, daily, sea level rise flooding at Turkey Point by the year 2040—12 years before the predicted end of this new operating license.
We believe that a nuclear reactor at Turkey Point is a deeply inappropriate and presents a high risk for our community. We need to plan for a resilient future with a stable supply of safe, clean, and sustainable energy. Given the risks to these plants, we joined the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, Friends of the Earth, and the Vermont Law Clinic in a challenge against this relicensing application on August 1, 2018. You can read our contention filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here: