Water sampling in December and January found tritium levels up to 215 times higher than normal in ocean water, according to a study released by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
The report doesn’t discuss risks to the public or marine life but tritium is typically a “tracer” of nuclear power plant leaks or spills.
The study comes two weeks after a Tallahassee judge ordered the utility and the state to clean up the nuclear plant’s cooling canals after concluding they caused a massive underground saltwater plume to migrate west, threatening a wellfield that supplies drinking water to the Florida Keys. The judge also found the state failed to address the pollution by crafting a faulty management plan.
This latest test raised new questions about what area critics have been saying: The canals began running too hot and salty the summer after FPL overhauled two reactors to produce more power and they could also be polluting the bay.
County commissioners, who have kept a close eye on the canals and objected to the state’s management plan, ordered the additional monitoring of bay water last year. The commission will discuss the canals, along with another study by University of Miami hydrologist David Chin examining problems linked to adding more water to the canals.
FPL officials declined to comment.
Over the last two years, problems with the canals have worsened. After the 2013 plant expansion to increase power output by 15 percent, the canals began running dangerously high. FPL officials blamed problems on an algae bloom that worsened after the canals temporarily shut down during the project. But when a summer drought hit in 2014, temperatures spiked. At least twice, when temperatures soared to 102 degrees, the utility nearly had to power down reactors.
After obtaining permission from nuclear regulators to operate the canals at 104 degrees, the hottest in the nation, FPL officials began plotting a course to fix the canals by pumping in millions of gallons of fresh water from a nearby canal as well as increasing the amount of water drawn from the Floridan aquifer.
But the growing saltwater plume triggered regulatory scrutiny. After the county complained, the state ordered a new management plan, called an administrative order, to address problems. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection declined to cite FPL for violating state water laws and instead crafted a plan that critics said gave the utility license to continue to pollute. The plan, hastily approved two days before Christmas, was quickly challenged by county officials, as well as environmentalists and rock miners.
The county settled its challenge in October after FPL agreed to a series of actions to clean up the plume that included constructing a barrier made up of extraction wells. The utility also agreed to try to use salty water from the Floridan aquifer, rather than freshwater from the nearby canal intended for Biscayne Bay, or treated wastewater from a nearby county sewer plant.