Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Hearing in Homestead, continues today ... by gimleteye

Yesterday in Homestead Florida, there was an extraordinary public hearing involving the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (The hearing continues today. See yesterday's post for further info.) It was extraordinary although one would need a super-wide angle lens to capture anything out of the ordinary.

The setting: a Hampton Suites Inn by the side of the Florida Turnpike. The Hampton Inn -- the first mid-price national hotel chain to begin offering a free continental breakfast and free local phone calls -- sits in former farmland covered to insta-gro sprawl. There are no landmarks to memorialize the battle to protect the areas zoning that once stretched from the Turnpike to the edge of the nearby, once pristine waters of Biscayne National Park a few miles away. It is all Denny's, Waffle House, and strip malls plus, a few miles away sequestered on thousands of acres of wetlands two nuclear reactors owned and operated by one of the nation's most powerful corporations, Florida Power and Light.

In the lobby of the Hampton Inn, incidental travelers pay bills, children rub sleep out of their eyes or are already transfixed, thumbing hand held computer games, while the adults complain or gather coffee and free complimentary breakfasts, busy and oblivious to a small sign indicating direction of a conference room and "NRC Hearing".

Inside the conference room, a raised dais covered in white tablecloth, microphones and computer screens await three judges from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. On the level below, a court reporter. An information technology specialist. A row for the hearing participants. On one side, three representatives of Florida Power and Light -- a monopoly that supplies electricity to South Florida. Sitting next to them, the single expert witness for citizen plaintiffs of C.A.S.E.; a local grass roots group, Citizens Alliance for Safe Energy. On the other side of FPL representatives, staff members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission whose work -- an environmental assessment of the FPL application to up-rate its Turkey Point nuclear reactors, Units 3 and 4 -- has been challenged by CASE. In a row behind these participants: on one side, two representatives of CASE and a team of NRC attorneys representing NRC staff.

There is also an armed deputy in the room, according to the advice and warning of the presiding judge -- Michael Gibson* -- that no members of the public can bring weapons into the hearing room. So 2016.

There are no members of the public in the hearing room, perhaps an even more extraordinary point since what is at risk and the purpose of the hearing involves the massive volume of fresh or partly salty water that FPL has been permitted to withdraw from the drinking water supply serving all of Miami-Dade County. Few people understand or know that because FPL's cooling canals for its nuclear reactors at Turkey Point have failed, the corporation sought and obtained permission from the state of Florida to pump water as a way of putting out the "fire" in the cooling canals whose temperature was allowed to rise to 100 degrees.

The state of Florida regulates how much water Miami-Dade County, Florida's largest, is allowed to withdraw safely from the aquifer. Today, nearly half the allowed withdrawals -- about 360 million gallons per day -- are allocated to FPL for the corporation to cool its superheated canal system; a 168 mile looped system like a gargantuan car radiator -- that is failing its purposes designed in the 1960's and implemented by FPL in the 1970's.

FPL has gone to extraordinary lengths, over a period spanning decades, to obscure from the public and from state investigators the extent to which the cooling canal system has failed, and yet the company sought and obtained from the NRC approval a few years ago to "up-rate" and to produce more power from the aging facility. FPL -- which markets to its ratepayers the reliability of low-cost energy it supplies as a way to garner public good will -- is also in the process of obtaining approval for two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, and if those reactors are approved by the NRC, Turkey Point would be the largest nuclear reactor facility in the United States.

Operating nuclear power facilities is extraordinarily complex, and the two dozen or so judges employed by the NRC are testament to the difficulties administering how producing nuclear power reveals through laws of unintended consequences.

For example, FPL has based another part of its marketing strategy on what a good steward it is of the environment. It showcases an endangered species, the American crocodile, that nests and breeds in the Turkey Point cooling canals. One of the unintended consequences of the up-rate sought by FPL and approved by the NRC is that it doesn't breed there, anymore.

The main unintended consequence that the NRC staff ignored or sped past in its environmental assessment, required by federal law, is the impact of highly saline water from the canals, sinking through the aquifer and spreading in all directions to eventually threaten drinking water supplies in South Dade, farmland, outstanding state waters and a national park.

It is taking an extraordinary effort to surface these concerns to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Public involvement is regulated by a set of arcane rules and meeting the threshold for those rules is no walk in the park. But for C.A.S.E., and the three citizens participating in the Homestead hearing -- Barry White, Michael Hatcher, and Philip Stoddard (a FIU professor of biology and mayor of South Miami) -- the FPL "up-rate" plan that required the allowable temperature in the cooling canals to be raised from 100 to 104 degrees would have sailed through.

CASE leaders, left to right: Barry White and Michael Hatcher
Three citizens pitted against one of the most powerful corporations in the nation. The subtle demonstration of that power is the absence of expert witnesses in support of the citizens; from Miami-Dade County, or the state of Florida, or the federal agency that is charged with protecting America's national parks, the U.S. Department of Interior, or any of the fully staffed environmental organizations like the Everglades Foundation whose headquarters directly overlook a deeply threatened Biscayne National Park.

That is how defending the environment works in 2016, in the United States of America. And that is extraordinary.

From the website of the NRC: Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel Members

Michael M. Gibson
B.A., University of Oklahoma (1972)
J.D., University of Oklahoma College of Law (1975)
Judge Gibson was appointed to the Panel as a full time legal member in July 2008. Previously, Judge Gibson served as lead trial counsel in complex environmental and toxic tort litigation for both private companies and the Environmental Protection Agency during a span of thirty years. The Chambers US Directory, which lists the top lawyers in the United States based on independent professional research, listed Judge Gibson as an expert in the field of environmental law. Judge Gibson also taught environmental law and policy as an adjunct professor. He has published numerous law review articles on environmental law, as well as a treatise, Environmental Regulation of Petroleum Spills and Wastes (John Wiley & Sons 1993; supp. 1994; Supp. 1995). His legal experience includes serving with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1975-1982), the U.S. Justice Department (1983-1987), and as a partner with several law firms including Jones Day (1987-2008).


Anonymous said...

Was the Homestead mayor present or any of the Homestead council members?

Gimleteye said...

So far as I could tell, no.

Anonymous said...

A pivotal moment. Is the NRC influenced by FPL money or can they be unbiased?

Geniusofdespair said...

Everyone left CASE to fight on their own. Where are all those do gooder environmental groups when you need them? No where to be found. What about Atlanic Civil and the parks? No one cares to help? Good article, keep your gun in its holster Gimleteye.

Anonymous said...

"Everyone left CASE to fight on their own."

Are you suggesting that there were additional plaintiffs in the litigation?

Anonymous said...

It is naive to think that any staff from our local or state environmental agencies would be allowed to testify, much less attend, this hearing.

Alex said...

Turkey Point needs to be Shut Down period. FPL has been neglecting the grid for decades. That plant has been compromised since Andrew. As for employees who are paid by taxpayers if they do not defend the very people who need their protection then they need to go. The SFWMD issued that permit to steal 100 Million Gallons of water a day and they should be in prison. They knew this was a disaster 10 years ago. Its time the SEC, FTC, and FBI expose and investigate FPL for the Ponzi scam it is. Prison is to good for the scum they are. Those 168 miles of canals are poison. The fraud in Florida needs to stop.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to White, Hatcher and Stoddard for taking the time and effort. Thanks to Gimleteye for being there. We appreciate your work!

Anonymous said...

Much praise to Barry White, Mike Hatcher Phil Stoddard, for their untiring efforts to challenge the big utility company.


Sidney Robinson