FPL’S Turkey Point gets thumbs-up from federal regulators
FPL is getting good marks from federal regulators who oversee the company’s nuclear activities in south Miami-Dade.
BY TANIA VALDEMORO
The agency regulating Florida Power & Light’s nuclear reactors gave the facility good marks during its annual review, but declined at a meeting Tuesday to talk about the utility’s security practices.
Officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted a public meeting at Homestead City Hall to discuss their assessment of the Turkey Point nuclear power station east of Homestead.
”FPL operated Turkey Point Units 3 and 4 in a manner that preserved public health and safety,” Marvin Sykes, branch chief of the division of nuclear projects, told the 40 or so elected officials, activists and residents in attendance.
The satisfactory performance means federal regulators will not be conducting inspections of the nuclear facility above and beyond their usual review since they had not identified any major safety issues last year.
Still, the assessment did not reassure everyone. Environmentalists said they remain concerned about Turkey Point’s overall impact on the environment. Others questioned whether the agency monitored workplace practices such as overtime. At Turkey Point, FPL has two reactors, Unit 3 built in 1972 and Unit 4 built in 1973, along with three units that use gas and oil to generate electricity.
The regulators’ visit to Florida — they also held meetings about FPL’s nuclear power station in Port St. Lucie and Progress Energy’s Crystal River facility near Tampa — comes at a time when people are asking about safety at Turkey Point. FPL will apply to build two more reactors within the next 12 years.
The commission’s assessment validates claims made by FPL officials that they operate the nuclear reactors safely despite news reports that highlighted several problems.
”In our view, this meeting provided the public and a number of elected officials a great opportunity to hear about Turkey Point’s 35-year history of safe, clean and reliable operations first-hand,” Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman, said.
Regulators welcomed tough questions from the audience at the meeting.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson raised several issues during the meeting:
• Whether FPL’s employee agreements cause a ”chilling effect” among employees who want to report their concerns about the workplace.
Scott Stewart, one of two federal inspectors who monitor Turkey Point, told her, “It’s an issue we are currently looking at. At this point, we have no evidence, just claims we’ve heard in the paper. We have not heard directly from employees.”
• A 30-percent attrition rate among the site’s employees.
Malcolm Widmann, an NRC official, said the number was ”not factually true,” though he acknowledged that while the shifts are fully manned, “right now, it is very tight.”
Waldron said three classes of nuclear operators are being trained. Later this year, 25 new licensed operators are expected to start work, along with 25 nonlicensed operators. Similar numbers of employees are projected to start in 2010.
After the meeting, Sorenson said, “My sense is they’d take all my concerns seriously and would be addressing them.”
Cutler Bay Vice Mayor Ed MacDougall asked about FPL storing spent nuclear fuel on site, an industry-wide problem.
”I would feel better if they weren’t there [at Turkey Point]. What does the future hold?” he asked.
Stewart said the answer has become a political football, with the Obama administration rejecting Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a storage site.
Environmentalists asked whether the NRC regulates the plant’s cooling canals — which several groups say have contributed to pushing an underground saltwater wedge further inland. The migration of saltwater could affect drinking water wells for Keys and Homestead residents.
”The NRC said this is new information,” said Laura Reynolds, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.
FPL officials said the utility did not believe the cooling system had caused any ”adverse environmental impacts.” Still, they were working with several agencies on a monitoring plan.
NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said water quality issues cut through many agencies. Still, the commission would conduct an environmental impact assessment of nuclear sites when utilities apply to build reactors or apply to renew their licenses, he said.
Bryan Fulker, an FPL employee who works as a quality assurance evaluator, said the commission’s assessment did not surprise him.
”We make sure we are doing all our activities right,” he said.