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Turkey Point Nuclear Plant in Hot Water via Union of Concerned Scientists

Fission Stories #179

Earlier this summer, the owner of the Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida requested and the NRC approved a change in the maximum limit on cooling water used by plant. For years, the plant had operated with the limit at 100°F. The plant could only continue operating for a few hours when this limit was exceeded. But power uprates and global warming conspired to cause problems with this limit.

Turkey Point uses an extensive canal network for its cooling water needs. Pumps pulled water from the canals and routed it through the plant to remove waste heat. The warmed water was discharged back into the canals. Long peninsulars of dirt forced the warmed water to wind back and forth literally for miles before it could again be drawn into the plant. En route, the warmed water would surrender some of its thermal energy to the air so as to be a little cooler for its next trip through the plant.

On September 26, 1996, the NRC approved a 4.5% increase in the maximum power level of the Unit 3 and 4 reactors at Turkey Point. On June 15, 2012, the NRC approved a 15% increase in each reactor’s maximum power level. Nuclear power reactors like those at Turkey Point are only about 33% efficient—for every three units of energy produced by the reactor core, only one unit goes out on the transmission lines as electricity while two units must be discharged as waste heat or thermal pollution. The higher power levels that NRC allowed Turkey Point’s reactors to operate, the more waste heat had to be released into the canal network.

Global warming only compounded that situation by warming both the temperature of the water in the canals and the temperature of the air cooling the canal water.

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Our Takeaway

Turkey Point’s owner also requested and received enforcement discretion from the NRC, allowing the plant to continue operating with canal water temperature exceeding 100°F while the requested increase was being reviewed. The owner also asked the NRC to review the requested increase on an expedited basis, short-cutting the normal process and its opportunities for public notice and comment.

Really?

Did global warming catch them by surprise? It’s been in the papers and on the radio and television. There may have even been a Simpsons episode or two about it.

Or did the fact that global warming causes the temperature of earth, water, and air (i.e, the globe) to increase surprise them?

These are Rhettorical questions because their answers don’t mean a damn. The first two, three, and perhaps even four plant owners can claim to be surprised. But after the NRC approved cooling water temperature limit increases for Millstone Unit 2, Peach Bottom Units 2 and 3, and Millstone Unit 3 in just the past two years, the “didn’t know any better” excuse is quite lame.

And the NRC should not allow plant owners to use lame excuses to get express lane service. Turkey Point’s owner could have—and should have—submitted its request via the normal channels instead of making the NRC drop everything to review it ASAP and denying the public its full rights to review and comment on proposed changes.

Next time an owner comes to the NRC with such a lame excuse, the NRC must channel Nancy Reagan and just say no.

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