Officials with Florida Power & Light want to use reclaimed water to cool its two proposed nuclear units at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant.
The backbone of nuclear power is water. Where it comes from will be the topic of discussion next week as the Miami-Dade County Commissions considers a zoning request from FPL to use unused county reclaimed water as the primary cooling source for the proposed units.
On Friday, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was in South Florida with questions about FPL's economic impact studies. In 2009, the investor-owned utility began the process of applying to the NRC for a license to construct and operate two additional nuclear power generating units at its 11,000 acre site in Homestead.
The questions centered mostly on sites FPL indicated as possible alternates to its preferred location of Turkey Point. NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said understanding why FPL chose Turkey Point above other sites is part of their agency's Economic Impact Statement (EIS).
FPL currently has two nuclear units, which are undergoing an extensive upgrade to increase efficiency and generate 15 percent more electricity. Both units are 40 years old.
FPL argues the proposed nuclear units are necessary to meet future demand. Given the lengthy review process, the first unit is expected to be available for use by 2022.
Right now, the Homestead facility taps into 168 miles of manmade cooling canals as the water source for its existing units. FPL spokesman Peter Robbins said the cooling canals are not big enough to supply the needs of two more units.
FPL's idea is to pipe-in treated wastewater from Miami-Dade County. Robbins told Local 10's Christina Vazquez they would need 90-million gallons a day. This is water, he said, that is normally discarded.
"We think it's an innovate way to recycle some water," said Robbins.
"This is essentially the sewage that gets treated by our water plants," said Lee Hefty, the Miami-Dade County's Assistant Director of Environmental Resources Management. "This is actually a beneficial use, this opportunity."
Laura Reynolds with the Tropical Audubon Society likes the idea of using reclaimed water but is concerned with FPL's back-up plan.
If the primary system was to fail, Robbins explained the back-up system would be radial collector wells that would pump 125 million gallons from the groundwater under Biscayne Bay. More water would be needed because the salinity of the groundwater is not as efficient for cooling as reclaimed water.
Reynolds said the geology in that area is porous limestone.
Given the amount of water and the force required, Reynolds fears the wells threaten to contaminate South Florida's drinking supply and exacerbate salt water intrusion.
"Water is the key issue with nuclear power," Reynolds said at the NRC hearing. "We're all connected by groundwater, so everything you pull from those straws in the ground is affecting the national park, our aquatic preserve, and inland, our water supply."
Reynolds is also worried about the impact the plan could have on nearby Homestead Bayfront Park and Biscayne National Park.
"This is a national park. It is an aquatic preserve. The radial collector wells are going to impact fresh water and salt water both east and west," Reynolds told the NRC at a meeting Friday. "That means it is going to effect the National Park and the inland drinking supply. This is a health and safety issue."
Reynolds wants the radial collector wells taken off the table.
"FPL would use the radial collector wells strictly as a backup source. Even though they are a backup source, FPL has conducted highly conservative groundwater modeling which assumed that the radial collector wells would operate 100 percent of the time. Even in that scenario, no adverse impacts on the water systems or aquatic systems of Biscayne Bay were identified," said Robbins.
"We want to make sure their use of that water isn't impacting other water resources in the county," said Hefty.
Hefty said if passed next week, FPL's land use zoning request would green light the utility's primary and secondary water cooling plans, but only at the local level. There is also state oversight in addition to the ongoing federal review process. Hefty said if the project went through as FPL has proposed, there would be rigorous monitoring.
In its Combined License application to the NRC, FPL explained how proposed Units 6 & 7 are expected to power more than 745,000 homes by generating an estimated 2,200 megawatts of electricity.
Plant executives say construction of the two proposed units would create 3,600 construction-related jobs, 800 permanent jobs and $6 billion in economic benefits to the local economy over the next decade. FPL officials also say the project would not emit greenhouse gases.
FPL wrote in its NRC application that the purpose of building two new units “is to provide additional base load generation to maintain system reliability, increase fuel diversity, and allow progress toward meaningful CO2 emissions reductions.”
The utility anticipates a total cost of construction between $18 and $12 billion. That breaks down to $5,843-$8,521 per kilowatt unit. The figures were based on 2010 dollars.
On its website FPL states that, “About nine-tenths of the Turkey Point property remains in its natural state of mangroves and fresh water wetlands. There are more than 60 known species of birds and animals that inhabit the property. Of these, 17 are endangered. The endangered American crocodile enjoys a favorable habitat in the plant cooling canal system. Turkey Point was recognized with the top industry award for land management and environmental stewardship.”
Up next, the NRC will create a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) and then hold public hearings about their preliminary findings in South Florida. There is no timetable for when that would happen.