Despite health risks and community outrage, Florida Power & Light intends to build additional nuclear reactors and inject waste into the Floridan Aquifer.
South Florida residents are currently locked in a fierce dispute with the state’s power monopoly Florida Power & Light (FPL), the consequences of which could affect their health and safety for centuries to come. FPL plans to build two new nuclear reactors and store nuclear plant waste in the Boulder Zone of the Floridan Aquifer— the lower portion of Miami’s principal water supply. This plan has been approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) but South Florida environmentalists refuse to accept the risks involved.
Miami residents get their water from two large underground stores of water— the upper Biscayne Aquifer, and below, the Floridan Aquifer. The Boulder Zone of the Floridan Aquifer is about 3,000 feet below ground. Most drinking water comes from the upper Biscayne Aquifer, which is separated from the Floridan Aquifer by only limestone. A US Geological Survey from 2015 proved there are faults along the aquifer that could “provide high permeability passageways for groundwater movement”. Much of Florida’s landmass is constituted by porous limestone, which studies have proved to permit transference of materials. As a result, any damage done to one aquifer in Florida could easily spread throughout the entire state’s aquifer system. This makes FPL’s controversial plan even more dangerous as improper nuclear waste disposal could lead to potential leaks of dangerous radioactive carcinogens cesium, strontium 90, and tritium into the state’s drinking-water aquifers. The lower Floridan aquifer has been used for municipal and industrial waste water disposal for decades, but generally, the waste has been organic and not radioactive. According to the Miami New Times, government documents have proved that the Floridan’s Boulder Zone could leak into the ocean as well as into the Biscayne Aquifer.
Florida Power & Light is known as the local utility monopoly and often faces criticism for its questionable and self-serving plans. One environmental group, the Citizens Allied for Safe Energy (CASE), filed a petition in December to hold a hearing before FPL’s plan was accepted. CASE has challenged both the NRC and local government with evidence that has ultimately been ignored or pushed aside. Barry White, who wrote CASE’s petition, “faulted FPL for clinging to a 20th-century business model too reliant on fossil fuels and nuclear energy”. However, fair jurisdiction is convoluted, given that energy companies are known to control campaign money in Tallahassee. President of the Urban Paradise Guild, Sam Van Leer indicates “Unfortunately, our laws and regulations have been written by lobbyists, and so we can’t depend on our government to protect us”. These groups plan to confront the Florida Legislature next in order to try and halt the project.
The question is, knowing the longstanding and often irreversible effects of nuclear waste in any ecosystem, is it really justifiable to change Miami forever this way? As stated by Van Leer, “The idea that there is some level of ‘acceptable risk’ when it comes to our water supply is, unfortunately, being given credence. There is no ‘acceptable level of risk.’ Even if there is a 1 percent chance or a quarter of a percent chance, that there could be a nuclear contamination of our groundwater, that is too much of a risk”. If Florida Power & Light wins this battle, the new reactor towers and waste disposal site will be operational around 2030.
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