Environmental Leadership? New Study Provides Facts and Solutions for FPL’s Turkey Point Open Industrial Sewer

This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | August 16, 2016 | Energy Policy, Nuclear
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) not only identifies problems, but is also committed to advocating for solutions. One of the most significant water quality problems in the Southeast is the ongoing pollution at Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) Turkey Point cooling canal system. This open industrial sewer appears to be in direct conflict with FPL’s corporate environmental stewardship goals. And a slick PR campaign can’t cover up evidence that this system is failing and needs to be fixed.

Here are the facts about FPL’s Turkey Point nuclear plant units 3-4

  • There is NO other place in the world that uses an unlined, porous industrial sewer to cool water for an operating nuclear plant – No where!
  • This grand experiment is failing and polluting ground water and the waters of Biscayne Bay. These are the facts and no amount of high dollar corporate spin can change these facts.

Therefore, SACE wanted to determine if any technologies or retrofits currently exist that FPL could implement to remedy some of the serious problems caused by this failing cooling canal system near Homestead, Florida. We contracted with engineering expert Bill Powers of Powers Engineering and recently released an in-depth report that recommends building mechanical draft cooling towers as an affordable, practical solution.

The bottom line: Use of mechanical draft closed-cycle cooling towers combined with the elimination of cooling tower wastewater discharges (through the Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) system), represents the best available technology and a fiscally-prudent solution for eliminating the water quality problems being caused by the cooling canal system.

The report finds that installing mechanical draft cooling towers:

  • is an affordable option that can actually solve the problem;
  • can be completed in a reasonable time frame;
  • is a technology FPL is already using, on-site at Turkey Point Unit 5;
  • has been done at other power plants, including nuclear plants; and
  • offers multiple benefits, not only to the FPL in terms of more efficient operation of the Turkey Point reactors, but also to the region’s current and future water supply along with the health of Biscayne National Park.

Why is this report important?

Contaminated water leaking from FPL’s failing cooling canal system at Turkey Point is polluting the Biscayne Aquifer, a sole source aquifer that provides drinking water to more than 3 million people in the region and to the neighboring Biscayne National Park. In addition, there is clear evidence of contamination of the surface waters of Biscayne National Park caused by discharges from the cooling canal system. This open industrial sewer has discharges that contain a slew of pollutants including ammonia, phosphorus, total nitrogen, high salinity levels and tritium. We identified extensive information that confirms that a growing plume of hyper-saline water and other pollutants have migrated in all directions, leading to a consistent violation of water quality standards.

Despite years of data proving that FPL has violated its operating permits, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) continues to allow FPL to operate on an expired permit at Turkey Point and has failed to take the necessary actions to protect Biscayne Bay from ongoing leaks from the cooling canal system. This is why we, along with Tropical Audubon Society and Friends of the Everglades, filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit last month.

Mechanical draft cooling towers that are already present at Turkey Point Unit 5 (click image to play video)

We at SACE knew we also had to provide answers  — what can be done to solve this unacceptable situation? We did the due diligence and thankfully, found what appears to be a win-win for the environment, Miami-Dade County residents, and also for FPL customers who are being forced to pay for expensive band-aids that will not solve the problem ($50 million alone this year!). The use of cooling towers removes all interaction with the Biscayne aquifer and provides a solution to the mandate Miami-Dade County is under to construct a reuse project to recycle 117.5 million gallons of water a day by 2025.

What do you need to know?

Simply put, the report finds that cooling towers can be constructed in a timely manner (~4-5 years from the time FPL submits the application to build the towers) and can be built affordably making this potential solution both feasible and cost-effective even if the cooling towers only operate for a few as ten years through the 2032 and 2033 operating licenses.

Please let your local and state officials and regulators know that you want solutions that can work–no more throwing good money after bad. Most importantly ask FPL and their parent company NextEra Energy to stop acting as if running an open industrial sewer between two National Parks is environmental leadership. Don’t say your an environmental leader, just do it!

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