Mass. delegation opposes Seabrook relicense over concrete concerns

The members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, all Democrats, have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) not to relicense the NextEra Energy (NEE) Seabrook nuclear plant in neighboring New Hampshire until questions are cleared up about the plant’s concrete.

No congressional members from New Hampshire were listed in the letter.

Seabrook is located about 40 miles from Boston. Massachusetts members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voiced their opposition in a Dec. 18 letter to NRC:

“We write to strongly recommend that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) make no decision on the June 1, 2010 request made by NextEra Energy Seabrook, the licensee for the Seabrook nuclear power plant, for a twenty year operating license that would begin in 2030 and end in 2050, until the concrete degradation Seabrook is experiencing is fully tested, well understood, and remedied by way of an amendment to NextEra’s current operating license.”

The lawmakers said that concrete cracking in some of the plant’s safety-related structures was discovered. The issue was eventually diagnosed as “alkali silica reaction (ASR),” evidently caused when groundwater seeped below the plant.

Although testing and monitoring has been undertaken since then, “it seems unlikely that the tests or models currently being utilized can be applied to Seabrook in a manner that would enable the licensee to predict any future impacts of ASR,” the lawmakers said.

“It is also our understanding that some of the ASR testing currently underway at the University of Texas (UT) for NextEra has yielded some disturbing and unexpected results,” the Massachusetts delegation said.

The Massachusetts lawmakers ask that NRC make no decision on extending the Seabrook license until 2050 until the Texas research is finished and NextEra seeks and obtains a license amendment that will incorporate mitigation measures as well as in-situ measurement.

The Dec. 18 letter was addressed to NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane. 

A NextEra spokesperson for Seabrook declined comment on the letter itself.

“We will continue to follow the NRC’s license renewal process,” the NextEra spokesperson said Dec. 19. “Most importantly, the NRC continues to confirm that we have demonstrated our structures are robust, safe, and fully capable of performing their designed functions. Ultimately, we are confident that our license renewal application will meet or exceed the NRC’s rigorous standards for approval of an additional 20 years of safe, reliable and environmentally beneficial operation,” the NextEra spokesperson said. 

NextEra is trying to secure a 20-year license extension for the 1,200-MW Seabrook plant, a pressurized water reactor (PWR) facility. In October, the NRC announced that it had closed out a confirmatory action letter (CAL) issued to NextEra regarding actions to be taken by the company in response to concrete degradation identified at the Seabrook nuclear power plant.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.