A relatively small Keys-based water utility is objecting to expansion plans by mainland giant Florida Power & Light.
The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority has sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission opposing FPL's application to add two new units to the Turkey Point nuclear plant in southern Miami-Dade County. The federal agency is scheduled to hold an evidentiary hearing on the application Feb. 9.
Turkey Point — and the cooling canals it uses — are 10 miles from the wellfields where FKAA draws freshwater for the Florida Keys. That water is treated, then piped along the island chain. The FKAA is concerned about a plume of saltwater that has traveled from the cooling canals toward the wellfield.
"We think that, before anybody would consider expanding a facility, they should fix the problems that the existing facility has," said Kirk Zuelch, executive director at the FKAA.
He said the threat is not only to the Keys.
"It's a much bigger issue," he said. "The issue is the polluting, so to speak, of the Biscayne Aquifer. This is the water supply for all of South Florida."
A spokesman for FPL said the concerns raised by the Keys utility have already been addressed in the federal review of its application.
Peter Robbins said 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.
"Our goal has really been to get the canal system healthy and we've spent a lot of time and energy doing that," he said.
Zuelch said the stakes are too high to take any chances, or add new facilities, until everyone is satisfied the problems with the canals are resolved.
"The thing with a water well is that you put saltwater in it, it's dead," he said. "It's not fixable."
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.