February 23, 2010 in 2010 Winter Features
Florida faces nuclear threat
Greens play key role in growing anti-nuke movement
by Michael Canney;†Green Party of Florida
Nuclear expansion threatens residents of the “Sunshine State,” but resistance is growing.
Two utility giants – Progress Energy Florida (PEF) and Florida Power and Light (FPL) – are moving ahead with ambitious plans for a nuclear expansion that would double the number of nuclear power plants in the state. Florida Greens have been active in efforts to stop this looming threat to public health and safety, and have played a leading role in a growing anti-nuclear movement in the state.
FPL plans to build two new nuclear reactors at its existing Turkey Point power generation facility, on Biscayne Bay near Miami, situated between two environmentally sensitive National parks , Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. FPL has operated two reactors at the Turkey Point site since the early seventies, which are now scheduled for an “uprate” that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and give the aging reactors a 20-year license extension.
PEF has applied to build a dual reactor nuclear power station on an undeveloped site in rural Levy County that is currently made up of woodlands and wetlands. The Levy site – currently the only “greenfield” site application in the U.S. – is located just a few miles north of PEF’s Crystal River nuclear plant, which is currently shut down until a crack in the outer shell of the containment vessel that was discovered in October 2009 can be fixed. Crystal River is also scheduled for an “uprate” and a 20- year license extension, but that plan may run into trouble if the problems with the containment vessel cannot be resolved.
Citizens concerned about the risky and expensive expansion of nuclear power in Florida have received little consideration or support from state legislators or regulatory agencies, and most elected officials of both establishment parties have either been cheerleaders for nuclear power or have remained silent on the issue. State agencies have acted as rubberstamps for the nuclear utilities’ plans, and in August 2009, Governor Charlie Crist and his Cabinet, ruling as the stateís Power Plant Siting Board, gave the stateís official seal of approval to the Levy County nuclear plant, despite the protestations of numerous citizens.
Florida Greens engage in energy policy advocacy
In February 2009, the Green Party of Florida (GPF) joined with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and the Ecology Party (an offshoot of the 2008 Nader campaign) in filing a legal challenge to PEFís Combined Operating license application for the Levy County plant. Several contentions allowed by the NRCís Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB). Meanwhile the construction has been delayed for 20 months. The petitioners won an important victory when the ASLB denied an appeal by Progress Energy that sought to toss out the contentions.
In 2007, the GPF delivered a letter to Governor Charlie Crist commending him for convening a climate change summit in Miami in July 2007 and for issuing Executive Orders on climate change. It was unprecedented for the state government to open the door to a public discussion of energy policy options that included advocates for clean, renewable energy solutions, but while Crist and other politicians were talking “green energy” and moving away from coal as the main fuel for Florida’s energy needs, the same politicians were cutting deals and approving laws and policies designed to pave the way for a fast tracking of new nuclear plants in Florida.
The Green Party let the governor know nuclear power does not belong in the Renewable Energy Portfolio being developed by the state. Partly in response to the governor’s climate change initiative, the GPF decided to draft a “green paper” on energy policy. In collaboration with Panagioti Tsolkas, co-chair of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition, a 14-page document was produced and shared with public officials in Tallahassee, including Gov. Crist and the public at large. Titled Climate Change and Energy Options for the State of Florida, the green paper includes a comprehensive overview of the issues and challenges that govern our energy policy options.
The “Nuclear Revival” section includes these five points:?1. Nuclear radiation is lethal to human beings and all life forms on earth. In the event of a nuclear accident or attack, there is no known way to prevent radiation exposure. There is no known way to prevent illness and death from exposure to nuclear radiation.?2. Nuclear radiation is a result of all nuclear energy produced by human technology. There is no known way to produce nuclear energy without also producing nuclear radiation.?3. Nuclear radiation results in radioactive waste. There is no known way to safely transport or store this waste.?4. No technology designed to protect humans or other life forms from the lethal effects of nuclear radiation has ever been shown to be successful.?5. Nuclear radiation can destroy life, as we know it. Perfect security does not exist.
The position paper goes on to say, “Nuclear energy must be a primary concern of the energy future. The expansion and perpetuation of the nuclear power industry can only be accomplished by means of massive government subsidies. The public interest is not served by such a policy, and subsidies for nuclear power should be firmly opposed by all citizens and public officials who are truly concerned about the health and safety of future generations, and the future of the planet itself.”
Early cost recovery = a license to steal
Florida Greens are also trying to inform about the high cost to consumers, and the unfair advantages utility companies have in regard to nuclear energy. “Early Cost Recovery” is a law written by utility company lobbyists and approved by the Florida legislature in 2006. It allows private utility companies to collect funds, in the form of rate increases to their customers, to finance the advance costs for nuclear power plant construction. These funds can be collected and spent by the utilities even if the nuclear projects have not yet been licensed and approved by state and federal regulatory agencies,. If the nuclear plants are canceled by the utilities for any reason, the corporations can pocket the hundreds of millions of dollars they have fleeced from their customers, all with permission from the state.
Last October, Florida Greens issued a press release calling this arrangement “a license to steal” and a “form of corporate welfare designed to fast track nuclear power development and guarantee industry profits at the expense of the public interest.”
In January of this year, a class action lawsuit was filed by Progress Energy customers, which challenged the constitutionality of the “nuclear cost recovery” law, under which Progress Energy has already collected over $200 million.
Steve Wilkie, Green Party candidate for Congress in District 2, said about the lawsuit, “Members of the environmental movement have long understood that the true costs of nuclear energy are not competitive unless supported by publicly funded subsidies. Itís high time that citizens are taking this opportunity to oppose these “cost-plus” rate scams.”
According to Nicholas Ruiz III, Green Party candidate for Congress in District 24, this class action is the only remedy available at this point: “Nuclear cost recovery is the kind of policy we get when we allow politicians who fail to represent the will of the citizens to legislate public policy,” said Dr. Ruiz. “When our lawmakers write laws that serve only narrow corporate interests, the only recourse for citizens is in the courts, and in the ballot box. ”
The Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is the state regulatory agency charged with deciding how much money the utilities are allowed to collect from their customers, and the PSC has approved requests from Progress Energy and Florida Power and Light to raise rates in order to cover the costs of their planned expansion of nuclear power facilities in the state. The good news is that the PSC recently turned down requests for huge rate increases by FPL and PEF, without which the utilities will be less likely to push their expensive nuclear projects.
FPL has indicated it is reconsidering its proposed Turkey Point reactor project, but the utility is continuing with the plant approval process with the NRC, and may apply again in the fall for early cost recovery monies with the PSC. It is an election year, and once the election is over, it will likely be “business as usual” for the politicians who get elected with campaign contributions from the utility giants.
Nuclear expansion threatens investment in conservation, efficiency and renewables
Greens have emphasized that conservation, efficiency and renewable energy technologies, all essential to a secure energy future and a sound economic base, are in jeopardy if this planned nuclear expansion goes forward. Public investment that is needed for the development of safer and cleaner alternatives will be siphoned off to finance archaic and dangerous nuclear plants, which will take many years to build at a cost many times that of safer alternatives.
According to Steve Showen, a Miami-Dade Green who is active in the fight to stop the new reactors at Turkey Point, “The best way to stop the nuclear industryís expansion is to deny the industry the massive public subsidies that guarantee their profits, because private investors consider nuclear power to be too risky an investment.” Showen adds, “It is absurd for President Obama to be announcing federal loan guarantees for building new nuclear plants, at a time when the renewable energy industry could make much better use of this support.”
The winds of change
Greens are hopeful that the groundswell of public opinion opposing construction cost giveaways to the utilities (influential in affecting the PSC decision to deny the latest round of rate hikes) will translate into support for the movement to pull the plug on utilitiesí plans to build new nukes in Florida. It appears politicians beholden to the utility giants may be retaliating against J.R. Kelly, the Public Counsel credited with successfully leading the charge against the rate increase before the PSC. A Florida Senate subcommittee is preparing to review Kelly’s job performance and qualifications.
February brought a surprise in South Florida politics, when Florida International University Professor Philip Stoddard was elected Mayor of the city of South Miami over a longtime incumbent and FPL supporter. This political newcomer’s upset victory is an indication that the public has had enough of business as usual. Stoddard has been a leader in a local public interest group called Citizens Allied for Safe Energy (CASE), which has the support of local Green Party and community activists in opposition to FPL’s nuclear expansion at Turkey Point.
For more information:
Green Party candidates in FL
Recommended sites on nuclear power and alternatives:
Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy
Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
Rocky Mountain Institute
Union of Concerned Scientists – Nuclear Power