With nuclear waste piling up, FPL seeks Turkey Point rezoning
BY JOHN DORSCHNER
After more than two million pounds of nuclear waste has piled up in South Dade over 35 years, Florida Power & Light is quietly seeking a zoning change to allow six acres of its Turkey Point site to be used for new above-ground storage casks.
Environmentalists have known for a long time FPL planned to use casks but they knew little, if anything, about the need for a zoning change, which generally allows for public discussion that could lead to modifications of the utility’s plans.
”It’s news to me,” said Lloyd Miller of the South Florida National Parks Trust. ”Haven’t heard a thing,” said Mark Oncavage, who follows South Florida energy issues for the Sierra Club. “I definitely think we should have a say in this.”
”I’ve heard from two people that something is happening, but no details,” Audubon’s Laura Reynolds said. “Can you share any details?”
FPL spokesman Tom Veenstra said the utility hasn’t been at all secretive about dry storage. “Information about this project has been on our website since 2006 and since 2007 we have discussed it as part of our ongoing community outreach presentations.”
The website, however, makes no mention of changes needed in zoning.
FPL’s problem is that it’s running out of space to store waste at Turkey Point, and there is no place in the country to send it. For more than a decade, the feds have been trying to create a national nuclear waste facility under Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert, but it’s been stopped by vehement opposition from environmentalists and local residents.
Marc LaFerrier, director of the Miami-Dade Planning and Zoning Department, said he didn’t know if FPL’s request with the county could be dealt with through paperwork or would require a public hearing. “This is a little different than the normal plan approval.”
Environmentalists emphatically want a hearing. ”There are very important issues here,” said Reynolds. “Because this site is so close to the water, we’re concerned about rising water levels with global warming and storm surges from hurricanes.”
A county hearing may be the environmentalists’ last chance to stop expansion of the storage area. Last month, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection gave its approval for the site change.
For more than 30 years, FPL has stored the Turkey Point waste in stainless steel-lined covered concrete pools. Those pools will be filled in the next two years, Veenstra wrote in an e-mail, and FPL plans to switch to dry-cask storage in silo-shaped structures six feet wide and 16 feet tall, consisting of ”stainless steel containers secured inside concrete modules,” two to four feet thick.
Around the country, dry casks have been used for more than 20 years at 55 sites, said Veenstra. They have been “proven both secure and environmentally sound.”
The casks are designed to meet all Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements including hurricanes, storm surges and other flooding, said Veenstra.
“The facility itself will be heavily secured and include multiple layers of protection, including perimeter fencing, radiation monitoring, a vehicle barrier system, a high-tech perimeter intrusion detection system, continuous surveillance, and regular security patrols.”
In a May 14 memo to the state, LaFerrier wrote that to get zoning approval, FPL must produce a plan showing a drainage system on the storage site would stop runoff water from going into Biscayne Bay or other surface water areas, even at times of severe flooding caused by hurricanes.
The environmentalists’ main concern is protecting the water. ”You’re asking for all kinds of trouble with water intrusion,” said Oncavage of the Sierra Club. “You could have hurricanes on top of global warming — how high do you have to have the casks raised so they’d be safe from storm surge?”
The county memo indicates FPL has made ”reference to a finished grade elevation of 18.3 feet,” but LaFerrier said FPL ”hasn’t submitted plans yet,” and it’s unclear whether the height refers to land built up to that level or a concrete platform above the ground. FPL did not respond to a Herald inquiry about the elevation of the cask site.
”I sure would like to see what the plans are,” Oncavage said. “Spent fuel can be extremely dangerous.”
Reynolds, executive director of Tropical Audubon, said she’s concerned because FPL is planning to build two more nuclear reactors at Turkey Point and re-zoning for more storage space will be one more step allowing the expansion.
At present, according to federal reports, the waste at Turkey Point increases by 40 tons each year, and that could double with two reactors in about a decade.
”I should make clear we’re not opposed to nuclear power itself,” said Reynolds, “but we need to look through a lens about expanding at this particular site, when you can have sea level rising and storm surge between two national parks. . . . With no Yucca Mountain, this is not really a sustainable path that they’re on.”
FPL’s response is that there’s no alternative. ”Due to planned space constraints in the pools, we expect construction on the dry storage facility to take place in 2009 and 2010 with fuel storage beginning in 2011,” said Veenstra.
But at least it will be green. For the cask site, the county is requiring ”nine trees per acre and 10 shrubs for every tree,” although these can be planted somewhere else if FPL chooses.