Miami-Dade investigating whether nuclear power plant is polluting Biscayne Bay
Miami-Dade County is investigating whether water from Florida Power & Light’s industrial cooling canals at Turkey Point have seeped into Biscayne Bay.
Higher levels of ammonia and salinity began appearing at Turtle Point, just south of the plant, in November after the utility began adding millions of gallons of water from a nearby waterway to freshen the canals, according to the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management. The 168-mile-long network of canals, which act like a radiator for the plant’s two nuclear reactors, have grown increasingly hotter since the company overhauled the reactors three years ago to produce more power.
Based on the findings, DERM and FPL have expanded water sampling to “better understand what may be occurring,” said DERM assistant director Lee Hefty. “We do not have all of the lab results back yet, so we will be continuing to evaluate this as analytical results become available.”
Problems in the canals worsened over the summer of 2014 as temperatures soared and an algae bloom — which first appeared when the company briefly shut down the canals during the reactor expansions — nearly forced the utility to twice power down the two reactors.
In a series of moves to address the problem, the utility asked for an emergency request from the South Florida Water Management District to pump freshwater from the nearby L-31 into the canals, in addition to more water from the Floridan aquifer. They also asked nuclear regulators to increase operating temperatures to 104 degrees, the highest for a nuclear power plant in the country.
The steps prompted legal challenges from environmental groups, nearby rock miners and local governments, concerned that the hot canals and huge water draws would put too much stress on a region grappling with increased demands on its over-taxed water supply.
As part of a deal to fix the problems, county officials demanded that the utility expand water-monitoring that included the site near Turtle Point. In September, levels of ammonia began climbing. By November, the levels were about 10 times as high.
Tropical Audubon, which has complained repeatedly that Biscayne Bay desperately needs freshwater to deal with its own fight against increasing salinity caused by decades of flood-control measures, lost a legal bid last month to stop water withdrawals but recently came across the findings on its ongoing discovery process. The group now says the findings prove their point.