Nuclear mattersSecurity questions raised by Cuban migrants landing at Turkey Point nuclear plant

Published 1 December 2009

Thirty Cubans fleeing Cuba landed near the off-limits cooling canals for the Turkey Point nuclear power plant; the migrants stayed — undetected — in the high-security area for about six hours; Florida Power & Light learned the Cubans had landed on its property only when a member of the group phoned the plant’s control room hours after the group’s arrival

A pair of smugglers on a speedboat entered off-limits cooling canals for the Turkey Point nuclear power plant early Thanksgiving Day to drop off more than thirty Cubans who remained there undetected for several hours. The Cubans were six miles from the nearest generating unit, and the power plant in southern Miami-Dade County “was not affected in any way,” a Florida Power & Light spokesman wrote in an e-mail Thursday.

Andres Viglucci writes in the the Miami Herald that FPL, which boasts of tight security in the area, did not address why its security personnel apparently did not become aware of the Cubans’ presence on Turkey Point for up to eight hours.

FPL learned the Cubans had landed on its property only when a member of the group phoned the plant’s control room hours after the group’s arrival. FPL has call boxes in the area for use by maintenance workers, a company spokesman said.

Nuclear power plants were directed to sharpen security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. FPL maintains round-the-clock security teams immediately around the Turkey Point plant buildings, which are also protected by several layers of fencing.

The buildings are surrounded by miles of twisting, mangrove-lined canals where hot water discharged from the plant cools as it circulates. The canals connect out to lower Biscayne Bay.

FPL spokesman Michael Waldron said there was no security breach since the Cuban group was nowhere near any of the plant’s heavily secured buildings. He did not say how far into the surrounding natural areas the heavy security extends.

<”I can tell you that FPL maintains a very strong security program that is regularly evaluated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Waldron wrote Viglucci in an e-mail. “As you know, there are many sensitive aspects of our security program that we cannot discuss in the newspaper, however, these individuals were over six miles from the plant in an environmental area and did not come anywhere near the heavily protected facility.”

According to immigration authorities, the Cubans were dropped off around 6 a.m. A brief report Thursday by federal nuclear regulators said one of the Cubans called the Turkey Point control room around 1:30 p.m. to say the group had landed in the canal area. The control room then called plant security, “who located and assumed control over the Cuban nationals without incident,” according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission report.

FPL security called Miami-Dade police for assistance. Police arrived at 2:25 p.m. and called federal immigration agents, who took the Cubans into custody.

The Cubans told federal immigration agents they were picked up east of Havana by two men in a 30-foot, triple-engine speedboat.

The Cubans were detained 100 feet from the spot where they were dropped, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Elee Erice. Typically, Cubans detained after reaching U.S. shores are processed and released.

The precise number of Cubans could not be determined. The NRC put the number at 33, but a Miami-Dade police report had it at 34. The group included four children.

Security at the plant has been managed by Wackenhut Corp., but FPL did not respond to an e-mailed question asking whether the company still does. FPL also did not say who, if anyone, is responsible for safeguarding the canal system.