Near the bottom of the Florida peninsula, surrounded by marshland and water, looms the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Generating Station. This facility, standing remotely on the banks of the Biscayne National Park, provides power to millions of people in urban South Florida to the north.
The map on the left presents the current area around the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant. The map on the right presents the best-case scenario of flooding around the Turkey Point Nuclear Power plant in 2040. This map is generated by the University of Florida's Florida Sea Level Scenario Sketch Planning tool with the use of data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
For decades the station has hummed along. However, the next thirty years in South Florida are predicted to be unlike the past thirty years as the climate changes, as seas rise, and as hurricanes are modeled to become more disastrous. As the citizens of Miami-Dade County, along with the individuals in our governing body, become more and more literate regarding what impacts climate change and sea-level rise have in store for our region, the community has become increasingly concerned with a myriad of environmental issues at the plant.
One of the community’s primary concerns is the plant’s location in a low-lying coastal area. Should the plant’s nuclear waste storage and cooling systems become inundated as a result of storms and/or hurricanes–exacerbated by sea level rise–then serious hazards could occur. There is also concern surrounding the roadways near the plant: the plant itself is elevated, but the neighboring roads are not. What will happen when these roadways are overcome by rising seas and storm surge, particularly during emergency conditions? Another major concern surrounds the existence of a hulking, super-salty mass of groundwater that is leaking from the plants cooling canal system and into our fresh drinking water aquifer. The cooling canal system cools the scalding reactor cores inside the plant–like a radiator–circulating hot water through the network of canals. The hot water evaporates outdoors and concentrates salt. Since these canals are carved into the same porous limestone substrate that contains the Biscayne Aquifer, the dense, salt-concentrated water sinks through the canal bottom and spreads radially in all directions, which is bad news for our environment and drinking water.
Florida Power and Light (FP&L) has operated the plant for about 50 years. In 2018 the company requested a license extension from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to run the plant until 2052. This extension request would have allowed FP&L to run the plant for a total of 80 years. As we’ve said, the next thirty years will not be like the previous thirty. When the NRC reviewed FP&L’s extension request, the agency did not correctly analyze the environmental impacts of operating the plant over the course of 80 years. The NRC failed to consider how sea-level rise would impact the plant and how the continued operation of the cooling canal systems could force more and more hypersaline water into the aquifer. As a result of these oversights, Miami Waterkeeper and our partners at the National Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth filed a challenge in 2018 against the proposed license extension. Our suit was initially denied, and we appealed. In an extraordinary about-face, the NRC announced in February of 2022 that the date on the license given to FP&L would be limited to 2032. Our challenge also compelled the NRC to examine its rules for all nuclear power plant license extensions in the United States. In March of 2023, the NRC opened a 60-day comment period on its license extension review process so that the public could comment on what environmental impacts, specifically, the NRC should analyze on a case-by-case basis at each plant. The new rules require for the first time that all applicants for a license extension must address how climate change impacts and groundwater quality degradation will be addressed at their specific site.
Miami Waterkeeper responded to the NRC’s 60-day comment period. We penned a letter to the NRC that identifies environmental issues that the Turkey Point plant operator must address if they wish to operate the plant through the 2052 time horizon.
The letter reinforces that Turkey Point, like any other facility, must operate according to stringent environmental standards and not cut corners. When facing a long time horizon and climate change, this is especially true. We encourage the community to read our letter here.