Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Federal regulators should keep Florida’s Turkey Point nuclear plant operating

The plant’s owners have asked for another 20-year extension.
The Turkey Point nuclear power plant south of Miami. [AP Photo, 2008]
Published Nov. 4

Florida Power & Light moved a step closer to keeping one of its nuclear plants running for an additional 20 years. That’s good news for the climate and for Florida.

Late last month, the staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommended that their bosses extend the life of the utility’s Turkey Point plant. Near Miami, the plant contains two nuclear reactors that date back to the early 1970s and power about 450,000 homes.

The plant already received one 20-year extension. If granted, the latest extension would allow the reactors to run into the 2050s.

Turkey Point doesn’t have a perfect record. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the utility to control an underground saltwater plume linked to the 5,900-acre network of canals that help cool the reactors. Researchers also found radioactive isotope tracers in Biscayne Bay that are considered harmless to humans.

But the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff, which looked at everything from the effect on wildlife to sea level rise, concluded in a 656-page environmental impact statement that keeping the plant open was a reasonable request. The staff also concluded that renewing the license was a better option than “all reasonable power-generation alternatives.”

Renewing the license isn’t ideal, given the plant’s recent problems and the lack of a long-term solution for storing nuclear waste. Turkey Point is also one of the older plants in the country. But South Florida’s growing population needs the electricity.

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light. [Courtesy of Florida Power & Light]

“If you shut the plant down, you have to replace it,” Florida Power & Light president and CEO Eric Silagy told the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s editorial board a few weeks ago.

Wind and solar aren’t an option — they can’t yet produce enough power 24 hours a day — and building a new nuclear plant is cost-prohibitive. Requiring aggressive energy efficiency programs to make up for the lost power would be politically difficult. That leaves natural gas as the likely replacement.

Natural gas is cleaner than burning coal, but it’s still an environmental menace and contributes to climate change. In the United States, it accounts for one-third of the carbon emissions produced from generating electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nuclear is carbon free, so keeping the reactors safely operating would be a win for the environment.

Turkey Point accounts for half of the remaining reactors in the state. The other two are at Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie facility. A fifth reactor, in Crystal River, closed after a botched repair job 10 years ago.

RELATED: Let’s take a moment to remember the Crystal River nuclear plant.

Keeping Turkey Point open will help maintain a semblance of diversification among the state’s electricity sources. Natural gas has become the dominant player in the past two decades. In July, Florida utilities used natural gas to generate nearly 75 percent of all the electricity in the state. Nuclear was a distant second at a little over 11 percent. Coal (9 percent) and renewables (3 percent) made up most of the rest.

Natural gas prices have been low for years, but the heavy reliance on one fuel source exposes ratepayers to market volatility. If gas prices spike, which has happened many times in the past, so would rates.

Florida’s largest utilities were so concerned that they spent $6.1 billion hedging — essentially buying insurance — against higher prices from 2002 to 2015, a cost that they passed along to ratepayers.

All electricity sources capable of powering entire cities come with downsides. The Turkey Point nuclear plant is no exception, but the state lacks a better, viable replacement. Extending the license would be a prudent move.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Michael Higgins, DO Vince Vanni
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point Star Award Volunteers, from left: Rev. Fred Houck, Barbara Weber and Steve Johnson. Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point
    News and notes on Pasco County businesses
  3. A huge number of homes owned by Baby Boomers will sell in the next 20 years. How will the trend affect the Florida housing market? CAMERON GILLIE  |  NAPLES DAILY NEWS
    The enormous generation born between 1946 and 1964 owns about 40 percent of the homes across the country.
  4. Service dog Eleanor Rigby unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies at Tampa International Airport as her human family was waiting near gate F81 to board a flight to Philadelphia in May 2018. The airport is getting ready to add pet-relief areas at its airsides for service dogs. (EMILY NIPPS | Tampa International Airport) Tampa International Airport
    Work on the new amenities is expected to be completed by next July.
  5. Developers of a proposed apartment complex near St. Petersburg's Mirror Lake area want to tear down this bungalow and replace it with a ramp to the parking garage. Susan Taylor Martin
    The only access would be via a narrow court lined with vintage houses.
  6. Cooling canals, with Turkey Point nuclear power plant in the background. Miami Herald
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday announced that it had signed off on Florida Power and Light’s latest application for a 20-year extension.
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Wages rose a solid 3.1% in November compared with a year earlier.
  8. Noah Shaffer of Confidant Asset Management says the restaurant sector in the Tampa Bay area has done well in 2019 and to expect more openings in the coming months. Chick-fil-A Brandon South opened earlier this year.
    So far, the economy appears robust enough to support further expansion, says a local industry professional.
  9. A new retail center and health club are proposed for the Epperson neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, home of the Crystal Lagoon. Preliminary plans show the fitness club near the most eastern edge of the lagoon. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Ryan Companies proposes grocery, retail stores and health club at neighborhood’s entrance
  10. Jamie Harden of Creative Sign Designs and Maryann Ferenc of Mise en Place discuss priorities for the Tampa Bay Chamber for the coming year. Harden is the outgoing chairman of the chamber. Ferenc is the incoming chairwoman. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    Leadership of the organization, formerly the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, also says it could have handled its recent name change better.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement