Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Something is wrong at FPL nuclear at Turkey Point, or, "the color of green", part two … by gimleteye

Serious problems in the operation of FPL existing nuclear reactors at Turkey Point are casting shadows on the corporation's ambitious plan to add two new nuclear reactors on its 11,000 acre facility later this decade. The problem is water.

Water in massive quantities is required to cool nuclear reactors. In the state of Florida, the South Florida Water Management District has been the controlling agency for interaction with FPL at Turkey Point (FPL is the dominant subsidiary of NextEra, Inc.). The District -- its governing board is appointed by the governor of Florida -- has signed numerous agreements with FPL on the operation of the existing reactors, called unit three and unit four.

While there has been considerable public attention on the recent decision by the governor and cabinet to approve the siting of the two new nuclear reactors, unit six and unit seven, with attendant anxieties about the placement of new high voltage power lines in population centers and transit corridors like US 1, there has been less attention on the water requirements -- including emergency back up systems that would draw directly from the waters of Biscayne National Park through a bicycle spoke-like system of radial wells placed offshore.

The problem for FPL and its new designs for Turkey Point is that its plan is being undermined by its own broken promises and manifest failures to control highly damaging cooling water from its two nuclear reactors.

Before completing environmental studies required by federal law as a condition of final approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, FPL needs to "fix" the serious -- severe -- problems in the cooling canals serving units four and five. "Fixing", some might infer involves correcting environmental problems the corporation has pledged to do through its binding legal agreement with the water management district.

But the environmental problems are so complicated, they may NEVER be fixed at units four and five.

Units Four and Five were permitted in 1972, more than forty years ago. Environmental groups, like Friends of the Everglades and Sierra Club, disrupted the FPL plan to dump its super-heated cooling water directly into Biscayne National Park by agreeing, after extensive litigation, to a 168-mile network of canals shaped like a massive radiator coil that would -- the thinking went at the time -- isolate super hot cooling water before it filtered out into outstanding state waters and into the national park.

By the mid-2000's, despite the best efforts of FPL to obstruct data collection and analysis, evidence of serious problems in the performance of the cooling canals rose to the surface of discussions -- if not exactly in the public eye -- within the staff of scientists and engineers at the local county and state level charged with protecting the public interest. For example, trace amounts of a radioactive isotope called tritium, created through the nuclear power generation process, began to be discovered in the water table far to the west of the nuclear plant.

At the same time that proof emerged that FPL had broken its binding legal agreement to keep cooling water in the canals, it moved aggressively to quarantine data and discussion whether the tritium movement also predicted serious and even permanent contamination of the drinking water supply in South Dade.

It is not clear exactly when the corporation discovered that it had even bigger problems IN the water quality for the cooling canal. The canal operates in a kind of top secret zone, and but for the fact that the nuclear facility is literally perched on the edge of a national park, the corporation would have little reason to disclose its environmental problems. To the contrary, every piece of marketing material approved by FPL on its Turkey Point facility emphasizes environmental responsibility and stewardship. Its "good neighbor" approach is literally blasted at the public, linking to endangered species like the American crocodile in the canal itself as a point of pride.

The problem is a highly toxic, invasive growth of algae bloom is blooming in the canal and no amount of lawyering can make it go away. In the few emails that have leaked out, the problem is described by the state as so dire that it could force the shutdown of the nuclear plant operations.

There are plenty of unanswered questions. For example, the application of 1920's technology -- the application of copper to destroy the algae bloom -- is also highly toxic. There is also the question of the algae bloom itself; what is the nature of its toxicity -- -- is this just a bad actor for crocodiles or can people die from it -- and whether the corporation is allowing the algae bloom it caused to spread into Biscayne National Park, an entity long regarded as one of the most threatened national parks in the nation.

There is a lot of science that could be done, that is not being done. There is a race to get the lawyering ahead of what is happening; kind of like spreading copper dust to make the facts disappear. Sadly the state of Florida appears all to complicit in this endeavor, thanks to FPL's all-in support for Governor Rick Scott in a hotly contested November election.

Why this is so urgent has little to do with reasonable concerns for the environment, the air we breathe, or water we drink. The FPL tactics have a lot more to do with its forthcoming environmental impact statement for two new nuclear reactors that FPL and its lawyers already decided must fit the case for Wall Street and for executive compensation.

(See Part 1)

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