A nuclear power plant south of Miami is leaking polluted water into the fragile ecosystem of Florida’s Biscayne Bay. The leak was discovered during a recent investigation commissioned by the county government, which revealed that Turkey Point power plant’s old cooling canal system is leaking pollutants into a body of water that mingles with the open sea. A growing saltwater plume in the bay is pulling contaminated water several miles away toward wells that supply drinking water to millions of Florida residents.
The nuclear plant, operated by Florida Power & Light, is over 40 years old. Like many other nuclear power sites across the United States, Turkey Point has not been maintained to a standard that truly protects the surrounding environment. Water quality related to the power plant is an issue environmentalists have been struggling against the utility company over for years, and this scientific study revealed disconcerting levels of several chemical pollutants that prove the power plant is to blame.
Scientists found elevated levels of salt, ammonia, phosphorous and tritium in water samples taken at various depths. Tritium is a radioactive isotope that is found in nature, but also stems from nuclear power plants. Although the current levels aren’t high enough to pose a direct threat to humans, the test results show that the pollutants exceed the levels set by federal clean water regulations.
If Florida Power & Light doesn’t act quickly to remedy the pollution and stop its flow, environmental groups plan to file a lawsuit against the utility for violating the federal Clean Water Act. In the meantime, state lawmakers are calling for federal intervention, claiming that state regulators neglected their duties by failing to cite the utility for a slew of previous violations. The energy company has managed to avoid even a single citation, which Florida House democrat José Javier Rodríguez and others believe is due to the company’s significant political influence. “What’s happening at Turkey Point is a real danger to us, to our water supply,” he told the New York Times. “The fact that there is salt being dumped into the aquifer and the fact that there are contaminants in Biscayne Bay really should have sounded an alarm. But as of yet, we’re still waiting for state regulators to step up.”
Florida Power & Light spokesperson Robert L. Gould defended the company, saying it has worked to reduce salinity levels in its canals since October following a consent decree with Miami-Dade County. He also said salinity levels are now half of what they were at their peak, and blames algae blooms in 2013 and 2014 for the high salinity. That doesn’t explain the other chemicals, but Gould argues that a little radioactive tritium is acceptable because the amount in Florida’s bay waters is still lower than federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. Whether Florida residents find that news reassuring is another story.