BY DAWN BAIN
Three grassroots citizen groups have petitioned the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) to re-examine the site chosen by Progress Energy Florida (PEF) for its latest nuclear plant. PEF has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to build two new 1,100-megawatt nuclear reactors near Gainesville. The proposed plant would be situated over 3,000 acres including forests and 765 acres of wetlands that are a water feed-in directly to the Floridan Aquifer, a major source of Florida’s drinking water. The project had been moving forward with little objection until the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Ecology Party of Florida and Green Party of Florida filed a lawsuit against the project due to environmental concerns.
PEF attempted to push the project forward without accurately completing the legally required Environmental Impact investigations. But two months ago, the ASLB postponed the project until the proper environmental studies have been done.
Opponents to the project see an opportunity to voice concerns for the environment including pollution, cancer rates and water shortage.
If built, PEF estimates the plant would consume 550,000 gallons of water per day during the estimated six years of construction. The plant itself would need millions of gallons of water per day for general operation. Nuclear plants the size of the proposed Levy Plant use up to 2.5 billion gallons of water per day just to keep the radioactive rods cool. Heated water discharged from the plant would be polluted with “acceptable levels” of radiation, harming local flora and fauna.
Dr. Sydney Bacchus, a hydro ecologist with over 30 years of experience in these types of environmental impacts is an expert witness in the case. Dr. Bacchus explained to the ASLB that “…construction and operation of this proposed nuclear power plant in the floodplains of Levy County would result in irreversible damage to the aquifer system and other water resources. These water resources are essential for maintaining the Nature Coast, inland and coastal springs, streams, wetlands and upland habitat which are critical for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species…Any energy option that results in such catastrophic environmental impacts can’t be justified as ‘renewable’ energy.”
Along with the astronomical daily water quantity needed, the Levy Nuclear Plant (LNP) has many environmental issues. The construction of the facility would require the removal of trees by cutting and by herbicide application to make way for the plant itself, 181 miles of electricity line corridors, substations, access roads, and 16 miles of water pipelines. The Cross Florida Barge Canal (CFBC) may need to be dredged in order to be deep enough to support the barges that would transport heavy equipment needed in the plant and to build it. Even nearshore portions of the Gulf of Mexico would need to be deepened for vessel access to the CFBC. PEF states they will need so many tons of concrete (most likely made from materials mined from the area) that they intend to operate a temporary cement plant on site. The loss of billions of gallons of water daily from the area would concentrate salt, nutrient, and pollutants in the existing ecosystem. This altered environment would place several federally identified threatened and endangered animal species at risk. The lack of water stops the system from its natural flushing and increases the likelihood of wildfires.
Location, extreme water use, deforestation, environmental damage, endangering endangered species, pollution and negative health impacts are not the only problems with the proposed LNP.
The newly designed Westinghouse AP1000 reactor chosen for this project is another cause for concern. Critics contend that this unproven design cannot withstand the hurricane potentials of Florida. And while it may burn its fuel more efficiently, in the event of an accident more radioactive contamination would be released than with other reactor designs currently in use.
Even if there is no accident, terrorist sabotage (or theft of radioactive products), devastating hurricane, or earthquake, every nuclear power plant emits radioactive pollution to the air and water. The U.S. government and the nuclear industry downplay the danger of such routine emissions, but doctors and scientists have thoroughly documented the cumulative effects of even low-level exposure to radiation. This is why we are given lead aprons during x-rays and radiologists wear dosimeters to monitor their cumulative exposure to radiation.
Fortunately the nearest nuclear power plant at Crystal River (also owned by PEF) has given this part of Florida an 18-month (and counting) respite from the radioactive pollution emitted during normal operation. While the plant was shut down for repairs, workers accidentally discovered a 25-foot by 2-inch crack in the wall of its containment vessel. With enough radioactive material to fuel at least several Hiroshima-type bombs contained in every nuclear reactor, our odds for healthy survival increase with each nuclear plant closure or delay.
The Crystal River Nuclear Plant was scheduled to go back online this month. PEF reported to the NRC they believe the 25-foot crack was caused when they cut a hole in the containment building in order to replace old steam generators. But on just last month, PEF reported to the NRC that its monitoring equipment had detected another crack that was not there previously. They believe the second crack may have been caused as they adjusted the tension of the steel web of cables encased in the concrete walls following the repair of the first crack. The plant, commissioned in 1977, was originally licensed to operate for forty years. PEF has applied for a 20-year extension even though concrete is cracking unpredictably. So far, the extension of the license is being approved by the NRC along with multiple other antiquated, problem-ridden, violation-rich, polluting nuclear power plants.
In spite of the many failures of the Crystal River Nuclear Plant and Progress Energy, the company still intends to build its experimental nuclear reactors in Levy County.
Without further citizen intervention and education of regulators, the PEF Levy Nuclear Plant may move forward by the end of next year.
The original petition filed by the grassroots organizations can be found at www.nirs.org/nukerelapse/levy/levyhome.html.
You can also find more information at www.nirs.org.