After over 50 years of working in the field of nuclear power plants worldwide, I thought I could sit quietly for a while. However, the recent opinion column titled “Safety concerns at Turkey Point are rising, along with sea level” caught my attention. I cannot ignore an article whose main premises are not based in reality. In fact, its misinformation is damaging to the people it is supposed to serve. Its inaccuracies must be addressed because of the importance of clean and reliable emissions-free electricity from nuclear power to our community.
First, Turkey Point’s licensed operations are strictly regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), an independent safety agency of the U.S. government created by and accountable to the U.S. Congress. No agency in the world does it better.
Second, extending an operating license is no trivial exercise. The regulatory criteria for nuclear power plant operation is: “At no time, under no set of circumstances, is the plant to be operated without all conditions required to assure protection of public health and safety.” In practice, it means that the plant will continue to operate if, and only if, the overall safety performance and conditions are as good as or better than when the plant was licensed.
Shutdown description ‘inaccurate’
Third, the manner of describing the recent unplanned shutdowns is grossly inaccurate. A reactor shutdown is an action by the Reactor Safety System that verifies a safe condition.
Fourth, the reactor for this plant is a containment-enclosed array of high-quality systems and components that contain the highest safety grade components. The author of the column confuses this by referring to the cooling canals that are long separated from the reactor.
These cooling canals are unique because they use a closed cycle to discharge heat to the environment by evaporation instead of discharging into Biscayne Bay or other environments. Evaporation cools the water in the canals and increases its salinity and the concentration of other materials. Southeast Florida has experienced saltwater intrusion into its aquifer since the development of South Florida many decades ago. When it comes to saltwater under the cooling canal system, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection itself has approved Florida Power & Light’s aggressive program of doing its part by safely removing the saltwater.
Finally, the author claims that sea level rise was not properly considered by the NRC. This is false. Following two local hearings in Homestead, the NRC compiled a 656-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which synthesized input and conclusions from its engineers and scientists, coupled with outside leading scientists and input from the public.
The EIS included exhaustive analysis and detailed modeling of sea level rise. “Sea level rise” appears more than 200 times in the EIS itself. The NRC also considered the conclusion of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact (which was prepared for use by Southeast Florida counties to support planning and mitigation for potential vulnerabilities due to sea level rise) which concluded that mean sea levels would rise 1.16 to 2.83 feet by 2060. But, TPP is elevated 20 feet above sea level.
As the population of Florida and the use of electricity grows from the new technological revolution, there is an increasing need to supply electricity from sources that emit zero carbon. Nuclear power is the best no-emission partner for Florida’s electrical generation infrastructure. Future efforts will require the partnership of many well-informed entities and the public without misinformation.
Dr. Nils Diaz, a resident of Florida, is the former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and professor of nuclear engineering sciences at the University of Florida.