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August 14, 2013

Nuke panel clears Seabrook concrete safety

SEABROOK, N.H. — An inspection report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that NextEra Energy Seabrook has shown the nuclear power plant’s staff is taking necessary steps to address the plant’s concrete degradation, leading the NRC to close the books on any remaining action items first issued by the panel.

However, the results of more testing — ongoing at the University of Texas — are necessary to determine a long-term solution for the problem as it relates to the NextEra’s request for a 20-year extension of the plant’s operating license. The result of that testing isn’t expected until some time in 2014.

The plant and its safety records have drawn interest from lawmakers and residents across Cape Ann because, while none of the Cape rests within the plant’s recognized evacuation zone, parts of Rockport and Gloucester sit just 17 miles across the water from the facility. The plant is visible on a clear day from both Rockport’s Halibut Point, and Gloucester’s village of Lanesville.

Records show that, on June 27, a team from the NRC completed a weeks-long inspection at Seabrook Station. The team reviewed procedures and records, observed activities and interviewed station personnel regarding the adequacy of NextEra’s actions to address the impact of alkali-silica reaction on reinforced concrete structures, according to the letter written by Raymond Lorson, director of reactor safety for the NRC.

The team also examined the plant’s safety and compliance with agency rules and regulations.

Alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, is defined as a slow chemical reaction among water, the alkaline cement and reactive silica found in some aggregates used to make concrete. ASR forms a gel that expands, causing cracks that affect concrete properties, but which can take five to 15 years to show up.

More commonly found in transportation structures like dams, bridges and roads, where it has been successfully mitigated, Seabrook Station was the first nuclear power plant to discover and report the presence of ASR in 2009.

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