FPL, speakers clash on plan to run Turkey Point nuclear plant to 2053

Opinions are splitting faster than atoms when it comes to Florida’s oldest nuclear power plant, Turkey Point.

To hear officials working for Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light tell it, the plant hums along as a money-saving, greenhouse gas-trimming success story that deserves federal regulatory blessing to have its oldest reactor turn 80 years old on the job in 2052. A second reactor would reach the milestone a year later. That would rank among the longest tenures in the nation and double the average of less than 40 years.

But the request for a 20-year extension represents something else entirely to scores of environmentalists, activists, students and others who traveled from places such as West Palm Beach and Boca Raton for a chance to speak at a public meeting near the plant south of Miami.

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They see a plant with an outdated canal cooling system threatening fragile ecosystems and water supplies, and a candidate to become the unwanted sequel to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster. They say Turkey Point is in no shape to get an octogenarian’s operating license without big changes to protect South Florida’s environment and guard against threats such as rising seas and stronger hurricanes.

In public hearings, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials are weighing those and other points of view.

Public comments can be filed by June 21. An agency decision is expected by October 2019.

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“I have a stake in the outcome of this process,” said Laura Stinson, 20, a senior at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, who is pursuing a degree in marine biology. She said it is “imperative these canals be closed” in favor of another solution such as cooling towers, which she and others argue present lower risk for introducing heated water, high salt concentrations, and other disruptions into surface and ground water systems.

Laura Reynolds, a consultant in West Palm Beach for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said FPL must be held to account for a “massive pollution plume” that “has built up under the plant for 45 years.”

But consider FPL’s progress on those issues along with the cost of alternatives, said Turkey Point plant manager Brian Stamp at a hearing Thursday at Homestead city hall. FPL figures it would cost $2 billion to replace Turkey Point with other options such as expanding natural gas operations, and the nuclear plant saves 10 million tons of greenhouse gases from going into the atmosphere each year, he said.

“Turkey Point’s been out there now for 45 years,” Stamp said. He expressed “absolute confidence in the ability of Turkey Point to continue to operate” in a safe manner.

Cooling towers are advocated by several environmental groups and local governments, but NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Thursday this might not fall under the NRC’s purview but rather under state regulatory oversight.

For its part, FPL said programs are working to address environmental effects, citing reduced average salinity of water in cooling canals. FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz said the “cost of these cooling towers would be a significant burden for our customers.”

Turkey Point’s two nuclear units began commercial operation in 1972 and 1973, and would operate to 2052 and 2053 under the proposal.

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