NRC grants license extension to Seabrook nuke plant

BRYAN EATON/Staff photo/The Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted NextEra Energy, the owner of Seabrook Station, a 20-year operating license for the New Hampshire nuclear plant on Tuesday. 

SEABROOK, N.H. — NextEra Energy, the group that operates Seabrook Station, officially had its operating license renewed until 2050 after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted its approval Tuesday.

The 20-year license extension follows an approval Monday by the NRC of an amendment to address concrete degradation caused by alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, a chemical process that causes small cracks in concrete. The plant went online in 1990.

On Sunday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sent a letter asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to wait to make a final decision until after an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing on concrete degradation at the plant.

Neil Sheehan, NRC public affairs officer, noted the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards concurred with the staff's conclusion that, while some of the structures are degraded, they remain fully capable of performing their functions through the requested period of extended operation.

"And NRC inspection results to date on NextEra’s operability determinations support the conclusion that ASR-affected structures at Seabrook are capable of performing their intended safety functions, and there are no immediate safety concerns regarding ASR at Seabrook due, in part, to existing safety margins and the slow progression of ASR," Sheehan said.

Additionally, Sheehan added, issuing the amendment and the renewed license would not prevent NRC officials from making any changes to the Seabrook license that may be required as a result of the hearing process.

"It is acceptable from a safety perspective to issue the renewed license prior to conducting the hearing on the license amendment because the NRC staff has concluded that actions have been taken or will be taken with respect to managing the effects of aging of the seismic Category I structures with concrete affected by ASR," Sheehan noted.

Natalie Hildt Treat, executive director of the Newburyport-based watchdog group C-10, said it is "disappointing, though not surprising" the NRC decided to push forward and grant both the license amendment request and extension for Seabrook Station

Treat noted the licensing actions by the NRC will not deter C-10's preparation for the public hearing anticipated in late summer.

"Our organization remains laser-focused on exposing the scientific and regulatory short-comings of this process, and we are committed to working on behalf of public safety," she said.

Seabrook Station and its safety records have drawn interest from Cape Ann lawmakers and residents because, while none of the cape rests within the plant’s recognized evacuation zone, parts of Rockport and Gloucester sit  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.

Amanda Getchell may be contacted at agetchell@gloucestertimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.

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