SEABROOK — 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 a decision made Monday by the NRC to approve an amendment to address concrete degradation caused by alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, a chemical process that causes small cracks in concrete. In a separate matter in 2010, NextEra Energy, the group that owns Seabrook Station, submitted an application to renew the operating license for an additional 20 years. The plant went online in 1990.
In a letter issued by the commission Tuesday, NRC officials said they "determined that NextEra’s license renewal application for Seabrook dated May 25, 2010, as supplemented by letters through August 29, 2018, complies with the standards and requirements of the Act, and the NRC’s regulations in 10 CFR."
In addition, "As required by the Act and the NRC’s regulations, the NRC has made appropriate findings, which are set forth in the renewed license and the ROD," according to the NRC's letter.
On Sunday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s letter Sunday asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to wait until a final decision is issued 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. "Based on its analysis of the license amendment renewal, the NRC staff has reasonable assurance that the activities authorized by the renewed license will continue to meet the commission’s safety requirements."
In response, opponents, including the Newburyport-based watchdog group C-10, have urged the NRC not to renew the license because of the concrete degeneration. A few weeks ago, C-10 filed an emergency petition with the NRC. The group said the NRC’s decision to "press forward with approval" of NextEra Energy’s license amendment is "dangerous and unnecessary, but designed to allow approval of the license amendment," according to Christopher Nord, who chairs the working group pursuing C-10’s legal challenge of the license amendment renewal.
Natalie Hildt Treat, executive director of 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
"In so doing, (the) NRC has shown disregard for the concerns of numerous citizens, elected officials, and the Massachusetts Attorney General, who had urged them to delay rulings until after the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hears from C-10 and Dr. Victor Saouma, an internationally-recognized expert in concrete and the problem of alkali-silica reaction (ASR) that has weakened Seabrook's structures," Treat said.
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.
For a previous story on the issue, visit https://www.newburyportnews.com/news/local_news/healey-seeks-delay-but-nrc-moves-ahead-on-seabrook-license/article_9714a794-3496-566f-a296-d39292910452.html
Staff writer Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch.