Just before midnight last February, the top nuclear operator at Turkey Point quit on the spot and stormed out of the plant, convinced that profit-hungry FPL executives were pushing the nuclear reactor to restart too soon after a shutdown. A little mishap you might have heard of in a Ukranian town called Chernobyl happened under pretty much the same circumstances.
So the nuclear operator's recent claims in a lawsuit against FPL -- that it routinely pushed operators to stretch safety limits to keep the lights on -- have understandably left many in Miami-Dade with some troubling questions for the utility.
Good luck getting any answers, county Commissioner Katy Sorenson says. After reading about the lawsuit, Sorensen scheduled a public meeting for tonight and invited FPL execs to come answer questions from the public about the plant's safety.
"They tried to talk me out of scheduling a meeting five times in five different ways, saying it was just a disgruntled employee and... inviting me on a tour," Sorenson tells Riptide. "Finally, they called and just flat said, 'We won't attend.'"
Sorenson is going ahead with the meeting anyway, at 6:30 p.m. at the South Dade Government Center. She says residents will have a chance to pose their questions to the FPL executives who refused to show up.
Sorenson says she's just as troubled by FPL's reluctance to talk about its safety precautions as she is by the allegations in the lawsuit.
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"You're a public utility. You have obligations to the public, and part of that is to show up even when it's uncomfortable," Sorenson says.
The plant's recent safety record has had some troubling blemishes. In addition to the recent lawsuit, a plant employee's laptop with sensitive nuclear information was stolen in December. Two years ago, FPL was criticized for allowing a disgruntled worker into a secure area, where he drilled a hole into an important pipe and caused a $6 million shutdown.
Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman, just emailed Riptide a statement regarding Sorenson's concerns. Here it is:
"Without exception, safety and security are FPL's top priority at all of our facilities, and we are proud to have operated Turkey Point safely for more than 30 years. In fact, we were pleased that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently acknowledged the appropriate performance of the Turkey Point nuclear plant in its performance review of the facility. Those familiar with nuclear safety will agree that there are many sensitive aspects of a nuclear security program that should not be discussed in an open forum like the one proposed by Commissioner Sorenson and, as a result, we advised the Commissioner that we would be unable to attend her meeting. We have, however, invited Commissioner Sorenson to visit Turkey Point so that she can tour the facility and learn about the comprehensive programs we employ to maintain the highest safety and security at the plant. We are hopeful that she will do so. "