The Nuclear Regulatory Agency granted two controversial license extensions to Turkey Point’s aging nuclear reactors on Thursday.
The 20-year extensions - which extend the life of the reactors to 80 - are the first of their kind in the U.S.
The licenses for the 1970s-era reactors overlooking Biscayne Bay were set to expire in 2032 and 2033. Florida Power & Light had planned to replace them with new reactors, but shelved plans after Westinghouse, the company that designed the new reactors, filed for bankruptcy in 2017 amid swelling costs at similar plants in Georgia and South Carolina.
Environmentalists, who have challenged the licenses, say they were caught off-guard by Thursday’s approval. Miami Waterkeeper attorney Kelly Cox said the NRC notified them just Wednesday that it needed more time to review the group's appeal.
“We’re going to continue to move forward on the appeal, but having this back door license issued is frustrating,” she said.
Miami Waterkeeper and others have asked the agency to hear concerns that FPL used outdated sea rise projections for the low-lying plant.
In a press release, the NRC said approving the extensions would not prejudice commissioners reviewing the case.
FPL's application for the extensions, filed in 2018, were the first in the U.S. and viewed as a test case for the aging fleet of 1970s era reactors. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said so far two other plants, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, have filed for extensions for two reactors at each facility. He said it’s not clear just how long the reactors can continue to operate beyond 80 years.
“At this point, the agency has enough technical information available to consider granting second renewals, from 60 to 80 years,” he said. “We have yet to go through a review to consider if additional renewals beyond that are possible.”
The Turkey Point plant is now in the midst of a county-ordered clean-up after environmental regulators found water from a sprawling network of canals used to cool the reactors had leaked into Biscayne Bay, risking damage marine life.