Turkey Point canal concerns surface anew in the Florida Keys

Florida Power and Light has asked for a 20-year extension on using its two nuclear plants at Turkey Point.
Florida Power and Light has asked for a 20-year extension on using its two nuclear plants at Turkey Point. Miami Herald

Concerns about a request from Florida Power and Light to keep its controversial cooling-canal system in place for another 35 years reach the Monroe County Commission at its Wednesday meeting on Key Largo.

South Florida’s largest electric utility has filed to extend the use of its two nuclear plants at its Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station until 2053. Turkey Point is due just north of Key Largo.

“The cooling canals are used for cooling these two nuclear units,” FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said Friday. “By virtue of that, the canals would remain in operation for another 20 years” beyond the currently planned 2033 decommission of the reactors.

Laura Reynolds, an environmental consultant working with a coalition of conservation groups including the Friends of the Everglades, National Parks Conservation Association and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, asked to speak at the County Commission’s meeting to update the board on the situation.

Last year, commissioners passed a resolution urging FPL to “discontinue” using 5,900 acres of land and canals to cool water from the nuclear plant “as soon as possible.” Commissioners then cited fears of saltwater intrusion into the Biscayne Aquifer, the Florida Keys’ primary source of fresh water, from the cooling canals’ hypersaline water that is migrating underground.

On March 2, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board members wrote to FPL with a request to “halt movement and remediate the existing underground hypersaline plume it created; and prevent any further contamination of the Biscayne Aquifer by its operations.”

“Monroe County should be concerned because this is their drinking water,” Reynolds said Thursday.

Water problems in Biscayne Bay exacerbated by FPL “are not helping the Keys fishing industry or the [Florida Keys] National Marine Sanctuary,” she said.

“That is 20 additional years of operating a system that is know to be failing, and 20 more years of impacting the regional groundwater supply and the surface waters of Biscayne Bay.​”

Robbins said FPL’s cooling-canal system “is much healthier than it was just a few years ago, for a variety of reasons.”

The utility is partnering with Miami-Dade County on a plan to use treated wastewater in the canals, which is intended to reduce its salinity level.

Two wells have been drilled to pump saltwater from an underground “plume” that is approaching the freshwater aquifer. “We have been aggressively removing saltwater safely and and working on permitting to remove more,” Robbins said. “There is a very detailed plan in place. We’ve started and will continue to execute it.”

Wednesday’s commission meeting takes place at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, mile marker 103.5 on Key Largo. It starts at 9 a.m.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206