A nuclear power plant on Florida’s coast has been granted an unprecedented lifespan extension, letting it operate beyond 2050 despite rising sea levels.
Licenses for two reactors at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station have been renewed through 2052 and 2053. That extends their lifespan from 60 years to 80 years, the first time a license has been extended that long, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a Dec. 5 statement.
FPL, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., applied to renew the licenses in January 2018. The Miami Waterkeeper, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental advocacy groups opposed any extension because of risks posed to the plant by rising sea levels and other climate change impacts. The groups also are concerned about the effects of contaminants from the plant polluting nearby waters and wildlife habitat.
Turkey Point sits on Biscayne Bay about 20 miles south of downtown Miami. The plant is about 20 feet above sea level, but its cooling canals and other safety equipment are lower.
This week, a regional climate planning group released new projections showing more sea level rise inundating South Florida by 2060. Local governments from Palm Beach County down through the Florida Keys should plan for 17 inches to 31 inches of sea level rise over the next four decades, an increase of three inches to five inches over previous projections, according to data released Dec. 4 by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.
“In terms of resilience planning, this is a very real cause for concern,” Kelly Cox, general counsel for the Miami Waterkeeper, told Bloomberg Environment Dec. 6. “Even in the most conservative projections from the Army Corps of Engineers, you’re still going to see consistent, chronic daily flooding at the plant during the lifetime of the extension.”
Climate Change Risks
Turkey Point is one of 54 nuclear plants in the U.S. that weren’t designed to handle the flood risks they now face, according to a Bloomberg News review earlier this year of correspondence between the commission and plant owners.
It was built to withstand a storm surge of 16 feet, according to documents submitted to regulators by FPL. But updated storm surge projections by the Union of Concerned Scientists range from 17.4 feet to 19.1 feet at different parts of the plant.
The commission allows nuclear plant operators to perform their own estimates of current flood risks. It reviews that work, but it rejected a recommendation by NRC staff to require the plants to update their risk assessments periodically to reflect the advancing threat of climate change.
“We’ve conducted detailed studies which have found that the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant is safe and protected against sea level rise,” NextEra spokesman Peter Robbins said in an email.
The NRC’s decision to renew the licenses for the Turkey Point plant’s two reactors reflects FPL’s safety record, investments in upgrades, and commitment to affordable and reliable clean energy, Robbins said.
“The NRC staff’s recommendation is that the adverse environmental impacts of subsequent license renewal for Turkey Point are not so great that preserving the option of license renewal for energy-planning decision-makers would be unreasonable,” the NRC said in its October 2019 final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
Geoffrey Fettus, a senior lawyer in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nuclear program, said in a statement that the extension indicates the federal regulators’ “industry-friendly approval process needs an overhaul.”
An administrative appeal from the environmental groups is still pending. Earlier this week, the NRC requested additional time to review that appeal, Cox said.
“We are going to see our appeal through in an effort to make sure the NRC takes a hard look at these environmental issues,” she said.
Renewing the licenses “would not foreclose or prejudice any action by the Commission” on the appeal, according to the NRC statement.
Similar extensions have been requested by Exelon Generation Co. LLC’s Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania and Dominion Energy Inc.’s Surry Power Station in Virginia.