Study: Nuclear plant capable of proper function

NextEra Energy, which operates the Seabrook, New Hampshire, power plant, is "ully capable of performing their credited function through the requested period of extended operation under the committed enhanced monitoring and evaluations," according to the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.

SEABROOK, N.H.  — After completing an independent study to address concrete degeneration at the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards has determined that although some of the structures are affected, the nuclear plant is capable of performing its function.

In a letter addressed to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Dec. 14, the ACRS offered its views on NextEra Energy, the group which operates the power plant, and its plans to address concrete degeneration, or alkalai silica reaction.

The ACRS, an independent body of experts that advises the regulatory commission on nuclear safety matters, concluded in the newly issued letter that while some of the plant's structures are degraded, "They are fully capable of performing their credited function through the requested period of extended operation under the committed enhanced monitoring and evaluations," according to the letter.

While none of Cape Ann’s communities lie within the recognized 10-mile evacuation zone in the event of any accident at the Seabrook plant, the plant sits just 17 miles across the water from Rockport’s Halibut Point State Park, and is visible across the water on clear days from Rockport’s Halibut Point area and from Gloucester’s village of Lanesville.

NextEra addressed Seabrook Station's aging concrete management plan in its License Amendment Request, which is separate from, but related to, the pending License Renewal Application filed by NextEra in 2012. That application requested an additional 20 years for its operating license, which currently expires in 2030, according to Natalie Hildt Treat, executive director of C-10 Research and Education Foundation.

C-10 Research and Education Foundation is a nonprofit that works to protect public health and the natural environment surrounding the nuclear plant.

In the first page of the letter, ACRS Chairman Michael Corradini wrote that NextEra’s Aging Management Programs "assure that the effects of alkali-silica reaction will be effectively tracked and evaluated through the end of the license renewal application period of extended operation."

According to the letter, the ACRS determined NextEra Energy has undertaken comprehensive actions to characterize, evaluate and apply test results into Seabrook-specific analysis and monitoring programs.

Peter Robbins, generation communications manager for NextEra Energy, said he is pleased with the conclusion. However, he said, however, this is one step in the process.

"I think this letter just affirms what we've been saying publicly for years, which is that Seabrook Station's structures are very robust, they are fully capable of performing their functions and they're operating safely," Robbins said. "Part of this, what we've been saying, is that ASR is a well-known, well-understood and manageable condition and we'll continue to work with the NRC to demonstrate that our plant is safe and effective."

In 2016, NextEra submitted a license amendment relative to the ability of its concrete to continue performing as designed. In October 2017, C-10 was granted standing in a case being considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Treat said.

NextEra Energy's License Amendment Request is relative to the deteriorating concrete at the plant, which has been operating since 1991, she noted.

Citing serious safety concerns with the concrete and flaws in the concrete testing and monitoring, C-10 sought intervenor status in the NRC docket, Treat said.

A public hearing before the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is expected in July 2019, she added.

"The public deserves to know, with a high level of assurance, that the concrete at Seabrook will continue to protect it from radiological release," Treat added. "This is an ongoing problem, with no easy fix."

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

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