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Science & Environment

Nuclear Plant Threatens Miami-Dade's Water. Mayor Says, 'This Isn't Flint'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's go from picturesque Vermont to equally picturesque Miami, where the water is under threat. Officials in Miami say a nuclear plant is threatening the county drinking water and the health of Biscayne Bay. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's a problem that began to develop two years ago, after Florida Power and Light upgraded generating capacity at its two Turkey Point nuclear plants south of Miami. After the upgrade, the plants ran hotter. Issues turned up in a closed network of canals that provide water to cool the plants. Because of evaporation, water in the canals became saltier and saltier. Now tests by the county confirm that a plume of that hypersaline water has contaminated the aquifer. Miami-Dade County officials are concerned about well fields not far from the nuclear plants that provide drinking water for the 2-and-a-half million people who live here. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez says while it has to be addressed, it should be kept in perspective.

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CARLOS GIMENEZ: This is not Flint, Mich. Our drinking water is completely safe.

ALLEN: At a county commission meeting this week, officials got an update on what the utility is doing to stop the groundwater contamination. Matt Raffenberg of Florida Power and Light says the utility is working on drilling a series of wells to extract the hypersaline water from the aquifer, work that should be completed in the fall.

MATT RAFFENBERG: Those things take time. We want it to happen fast as well. Not only do we have to design it, we have to permit it, and that goes through a whole regulatory process.

ALLEN: New test results released this week show contamination from the nuclear plants is threatening not just the county's drinking water, but also the health of Biscayne Bay. The bay, which stretches from Miami to the Florida Keys, is a shallow and fragile ecosystem. The county tests show hypersaline water from the cooling canals - along with phosphorus, ammonia and a radioactive isotope, tritium - is leaching into the bay. Rachel Silverstein with Miami Waterkeeper, an environmental group, says it's already had an impact.

RACHEL SILVERSTEIN: Biscayne Bay, in the last few years, has had the first-ever algae blooms, and these fertilizers and these chemicals that are in the cooling canal water can make these algae blooms worse. It can make it difficult for fish to live, harmful for people as well.

ALLEN: Florida Power and Light believes it can fix the problem, but it has an even bigger project in the works. The utility hopes to receive licenses next year to build two additional nuclear plants at Turkey Point. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.