With Japan on the brink of a devastating meltdown, nuclear power is coming under increased scrutiny around the globe. We talked to Jupiter-based Thomas Saporito, a former instrument control technician and safety whistleblower at nuclear power plants in Florida, Arizona, and Texas. Saporito now works as a consultant and nuclear power watchdog. He spent three years at Turkey Point, the Florida Power & Light-owned facility located just east of Homestead.
It was not a reassuring chat. Here are, according to Saporito, the five most dangerous aspects of the Turkey Point plant.
1. It's old.
When Turkey Point went into operation in 1972, it was licensed for, and designed to last, 40 years. With that expiration date approaching, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) "rubber-stamped" another 20 years onto the plant's license. Turkey Point can now operate until 2033. "This is uncharted territory," Saporito says. "The NRC has no firm idea of what will happen, and they cannot dispute that those reactors may crack from being bombarded with high-level radiation."
2. FPL employees are afraid to report safety concerns. Saporito claims FPL fired him -- twice -- for whistleblowing. The utility company's penchant for retaliation has what he calls a "significant chilling effect": Nuclear workers don't bring safety concerns to their bosses. His evidence: In the past six years, the NRC has received 160 anonymous complaints about Florida nuclear plants from their workers, "far in excess of any other nuclear plants in the U.S." What concerns Saporito is that those workers didn't feel safe bringing their complaints to FPL -- and the implication there might be employees who choose not to speak up at all.
3. Just like in Japan, Turkey Point is extremely susceptible to a meltdown caused by a natural disaster.
A hurricane creating a tidal surge coming off of Turkey Point's neighboring Biscayne Bay could cause catastrophic conditions identical to those in Japan. With regional power down, the plant would be forced to rely on emergency diesel generators to continue pumping the 650,000 gallons of water per minute needed to cool the reactors. But Saporito believes those generators would "certainly" become inundated with water from the tidal surge, causing them to drown and fail. Such a meltdown in Japan is the cause of those alarming images of rescue workers trying to douse the power plant with water to keep it cool.
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4. And just like in Japan, Turkey Point's spent fuel pools are a catastrophe waiting to occur.
Fukushima Daiichi Power Station's spent fuel pools -- swimming pools filled with radioactive fluids -- are threatening to boil away, introducing radiation into the air. But a disaster isn't necessary for a meltdown caused by Turkey Point's spent fuel pools, Saporito says. Last June, the company was fined $70,000 for violations regarding Turkey Point's spent fuel pools. The negligence "could have resulted in a severe nuclear accident," Saporito says. "That could be a horrific disaster all by itself."
5. If Turkey Point melts down, Miami is doomed.
Saporito says that, as in Japan, there will be no chance to evacuate the city to protect ourselves from radiation. People will be ordered to stay indoors, but "gamma rays will go right through a house like it's nothing. People are going to die" and radiation will make the region uninhabitable. Saporito considers it ironic that keeping old nuclear plants in business, and building new ones, is in his opinion, motivated by money. "The entire city of Miami could become a ghost town that nobody can go back to for 50,000 years. What would that do for that state of Florida's economy?"