Local groups and concerned citizens continue to challenge federal licensing with future of nearby national parks and region’s drinking water supply at risk.
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Today a three-judge panel of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Atomic Safety Licensing Board, will hear arguments from the parties challenging Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) request for a federal license to build two additional nuclear reactors at their existing Turkey Point facility in Miami-Dade County. After seven years of legal engagement, today’s hearing considers concerns on whether FPL’s plan to dispose the proposed Turkey Point nuclear reactors’ wastewater underground could contaminate the Upper Floridan Aquifer, putting the region’s drinking water supply and Biscayne and Everglades National Parks at risk.
“We are arguing that the National Environmental Policy Act requires that the NRC take a hard look at the impacts to human health and the environment of injecting wastewater underground,” said Jason Totoiu, executive director of the Everglades Law Center. “We hope the licensing board agrees that a comprehensive study needs to be done before a license can be issued.”
Together, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and local residents Captain Dan Kipnis and Mark Oncavage legally intervened in the federal licensing proceedings for the proposed nuclear expansion. The Everglades Law Center and Emory University School of Law’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic have provided extensive legal counsel to the groups.
FPL has proposed using millions of gallons of reclaimed wastewater as the primary source of cooling water for the new reactors. After use, FPL plans to discharge the polluted wastewater into the groundwater. Although the wastewater will be treated before it is injected underground, measurements of some toxic contaminants exceed federal limits and advisory guidelines.
FPL bases its plan to inject water into the Boulder Zone on the assumption that it is completely isolated from the overlying Upper Floridan Aquifer. But the groups contend that in some parts of Southern Florida, municipal wastewater injected into the Boulder Zone has migrated upward into overlying layers and in some cases, into federally designated Underground Sources of Drinking Water.
“We are concerned that FPL and the NRC have not exercised due diligence to support their position that migration of contaminants into the potential drinking water supply is virtually impossible,” said Mindy Goldstein, director of Emory School of Law’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic. “At the very least, they should have investigated the hydrogeology of the site using seismic-reflection technology, which has been used successfully by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department to identify faults and other geologic features that could carry contaminants into the designated drinking water supply.”
According to NRC’s own guidelines, locating a nuclear power plant next to public lands that are designed to protect valuable wildlife and habitat can have unacceptable impacts. In addition to Biscayne and Everglades National Parks, nearby is a state-managed aquatic preserve, an expansive wetland habitat preserve, a national wildlife refuge, and a national marine sanctuary in close proximity to the proposed site.
“This proposal threatens our national parks, endangered wildlife, ongoing Everglades restoration efforts and our drinking water supply,” said Caroline McLaughlin, Biscayne program manager for National Parks Conservation Association. “The amount of water required to operate an additional two nuclear towers, compounded with current water quality and quantity concerns, puts Biscayne National Park in jeopardy, along with its visitors and the billion dollar tourist economy the park helps support. The border of the nation’s largest marine national park is no place to expand nuclear activities.”
FPL’s highly speculative project has become even more so given the recent financial meltdown and now bankruptcy of the designer/builder for the AP1000 nuclear reactor, Toshiba’s Westinghouse – due to the extremely over budget and delayed AP1000 reactor construction projects in nearby Georgia and South Carolina. In fact, Westinghouse is now out of the nuclear construction business altogether – leaving FPL without a builder. Over $280 million has already been charged to customers in advance for FPL’s proposed Turkey Point expansion due to anti-consumer state legislation passed over a decade ago known as the “early cost recovery” law or Florida’s “nuclear tax.”
“FPL’s proposed project has been delayed multiple times to 2028 at the earliest, twenty years after the original need determination by the Florida Public Service Commission and cost estimates are over $20 billion – and none of this considers the latest financial meltdown of Westinghouse,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The project poses dire financial consequences for FPL’s customers. Regulators and elected officials need to recognize that there are safe, affordable, less destructive ways for FPL to meet energy demand while protecting the environment and addressing global climate change.”
If the expansion is approved, FPL’s Turkey Point facility would become the largest nuclear power plant in the country. The NRC is the lead federal agency determining if FPL will receive federal licensing approval that is required for them to move forward with the Turkey Point expansion. The process has been delayed several years; the final environmental impact statement (EIS) was not issued until October 2016.
“I have long criticized FPL’s proposal to build more nuclear reactors in this location, which is ground zero for the impacts from climate change, particularly sea level rise. Investing tens of billions of dollars on a power plant that will be underwater one day, along with the highly radioactive waste it will produce, makes no sense,” said Captain Dan Kipnis, a local resident and fishing captain. “The evidence we’ve provided cries out for a halt to approving the federal licensing of these proposed reactors and a return to the drawing board regarding the safety, or lack thereof, of our precious drinking water.”
The intervening organizations held a media conference call on April 25, 2017. Find the audio recording and participant statements here.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Order for today’s hearing can be found here, which includes instructions on how concerned parties can submit written comments in the form of “Limited Appearance Statement.” The contention 2.1 being discussed at today’s hearing, which has been modified several times, most recently by the ASLB in April 2016, reads:
“The DEIS is deficient in concluding that the environmental impacts from FPL’s proposed deep injection wells will be “small.” The chemicals ethylbenzene, heptachlor, tetrachloroethylene, and toluene in the wastewater injections at concentrations listed in DEIS Table 3-5 may adversely impact the groundwater should they migrate from the Boulder Zone to the Upper Floridan Aquifer.”
Next steps: After today’s evidential hearing, legal briefs and other legal correspondence will follow. There is no requirement on the timing of the ASLB’s decision but the groups anticipate a decision within the next several months. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will likely rely on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the issuance of a 404 permit. A Record of Decision will be issued based on the Final EIS and the completion of the Corps’ analysis under the Clean Water Act. A final Safety Report will also be issued soon. After all of these steps are completed, the NRC can issue a Combined Operating License (COL), which may happen in late 2017.
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