The chemistry manager at Turkey Point, Kevin O’Hare, sporting protective goggles and a hard hat, led a small tour group through the facility’s labyrinthine inner passageways, and up a set of metal stairs onto a landing. At the center of the landing is a turbine longer than a coach bus, protected by a thick metal housing. Through a tiny window in that housing, you can see the turbine spinning.

O’Hare shouts that it’s OK to touch the turbine housing, to feel the vibration made by 802 megawatts of power. And as most visitors do, they immediately register a mix of pride and astonishment and childlike glee at this behemoth, splitting atoms, lighting up Miami so that it glows in the night.

O’Hare led the tour group back down off the platform. He walked his charges past the building housing the backup diesel generators, and down to the landing by the bay, making sure to point out the flood defenses—and to note the height and the slope of the concrete leading up from the water to the reactor’s housing.

Earlier, in a conference room, O’Hare had used the word “steward” to describe the responsibility borne by Turkey Point’s employees. And then he’d taken a phone call.

“Sorry, this is that emergency call,” he said. “I can’t keep putting it off. We’ll put it on speaker.”

It was a weekly call to test the plant’s emergency response system; yet another hallmark of how everything related to building, operating, maintaining, and safeguarding a nuclear plant follows meticulous procedures—tens of thousands of physical and virtual documents, a welter of excruciatingly detailed plans and instructions for every U.S. nuclear power plant.

For O’Hare, this fastidiousness is a mark of pride. For NextEra Energy, the Fortune 200 company that owns Florida Power & Light, those reams of procedures and regulations represent a heavy cost. And in an electricity market increasingly powered by cheap natural gas, those costs—and the costs of maintaining or repairing aging plants—are making nuclear power less competitive. Thanks to these market pressures, five nuclear plants have shut in the past five years. Another twelve may do so in the next six. There aren’t enough new nuclear power plants on the drawing board to replace those that come off line. The two reactors now under construction suffer from cost overruns. South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper abandoned plans to build two reactors in 2017. And Florida Power & Light’s NRC-approved additional two reactors at Turkey Point may never come online.

Almost 20 percent of all electric power nationwide is generated by atomic fission. The dwindling margins of profitability for commercial nuclear power have serious implications—not just for the residents of South Florida, but also for a planet faced with the challenge of a swift transition away from fossil fuels.

Back on the pleasure boat circling near the facility, South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard stood at the bow, watching a backhoe at work near the perimeter of Turkey Point.

“If you had to, you know, pick the whole thing up and raise it up another 20 feet, that’s not that technically difficult,” he said. “It’s just expensive.”

From this vantage, the solutions to climate change are easy to imagine: Build your coastal nuclear power plant 20 feet higher, and buy time until the world figures out a way to dial down the global thermostat. The catastrophes of flooding induced by climate change are likewise easy to conceive: A surge from a massive storm wipes out a plant’s pumps and emergency generators, causing the core to overheat and melt down, spewing radioactive particles into the ocean and the sky. It’s still an infinitesimal risk, but we’ve seen it play out in horrifying detail for the communities around Fukushima Daiichi. As the American nuclear industry sits in denial before the rising seas, industry leaders, the NRC, and the rest of us can ill afford to act as though extreme flood risks aren’t swelling with the tide.

This article was reported in partnership with Type Investigations.