News Feature | January 11, 2017

Water Utility Objects To Potential Nuclear Plant Expansion

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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Concerns about water pollution have prompted a relatively small water utility in the Florida Keys to take on an electric giant in a federal fight over a nuclear plant.

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is lobbying federal regulators against Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) application to expand its Turkey Point nuclear plant by adding two new units, according to WGCU, an NPR-member radio station. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is planning to hold a hearing on the application next month.

The aqueduct authority, a drinking water and wastewater servicer, has around 50,000 customers. FPL has around 4.8 million customers in the state. It is the largest rate-regulated electric utility in Florida.

Water pollution prompted the water provider to jump into this fight. The utility wants FPL “to fix the problems caused by excessively salty water at its Turkey Point nuclear plant before the utility can build two more reactors there,” E&E News reported.

The water utility says it is concerned about “a plume of saltwater that has traveled from the [electric company’s] cooling canals toward the wellfield” where the water utility draws water to provide to the Florida Keys, WGCU reported.

Kirk Zuelch, executive director at the water utility, stressed the danger posed by the saltwater plume.

“If saltwater reaches the wellfields, the only options for the Keys would be opening new wellfields in a different location or saltwater conversion to freshwater. Both options, he said, are extremely expensive,” WGCU reported.

Zuelch told WGCU: "We think that, before anybody would consider expanding a facility, they should fix the problems that the existing facility has.” He added: "The issue is the polluting, so to speak, of the Biscayne Aquifer. This is the water supply for all of South Florida."

This dispute is not the first time the saltwater plume has garnered regulatory attention.

“A plume of saltwater flowing from the plant threatens the Keys' water supply. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has found FPL in violation of its permits and state rules. A settlement agreement with the state calls on FPL to reverse the plume's flow and eradicate it,” the Associated Press reported.

A spokesperson for the electric company said the water utility’s concerns are addressed in its application.

He added that “the new units would not use the cooling canals that are the source of the hypersaline water. Instead they would use reclaimed water — treated sewage water from Miami-Dade — and a system of cooling towers. And he said FPL is addressing the saltwater plume by drawing up the hypersaline water and disposing of it,” WGCU reported.

He said the goal is to make the canal system healthy and that the electric company is pouring energy into that task.

To read more about how industrial operations can affect water quality visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.

Image credit: "TVA Nuclear Plant," Tennessee Valley Authority © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: