With recent inspections indicating that concrete degradation at Seabrook Station may have long-term effects on a safety structure at the facility, federal lawmakers are calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold a public meeting near the power plant to give area residents an opportunity to learn more about the nature of the problem.
The degradation is affecting an electric control tunnel at the nuclear power plant that supports the cooling system used when the reactor is shut down. The concrete safety structure has been compromised by years of ground water infiltration and is showing signs of alkali-silica reaction, a chemical process that occurs over time when the type of concrete used at Seabrook Station comes in contact with water. Alkali-silica reaction forms a gel that expands, causing micro-cracks that change the structural properties of the concrete.
Top management at NextEra Energy Resources, the plant operator, are scheduled to meet April 23 with an NRC team at the commission’s headquarters in Rockville, Md., to discuss the concrete degradation and Seabrook Station’s plan to address it.
NextEra has been studying the issue for many months and has a comprehensive strategy in place to manage it, NextEra spokesman Alan Griffith said. The alkali-silica reaction “has not, and will not, impact our ability to operate our plant safely.’’
US Representatives Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat and the senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and John F. Tierney, a Salem Democrat and the senior member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, say they want those who live near the plant to hear the details of that strategy. Last week, the federal lawmakers wrote to NRC chairman Gregory B. Jaczko, requesting that a second meeting be held locally so that nearby residents have an opportunity to question NextEra officials and NRC experts.
The NRC’s plan to hold its sole meeting on the degradation in Maryland “severely limits the ability of those who live and work near the facility to fully understand the nature of this safety- and aging-related problem,’’ the congressmen wrote. “We also believe that any failure to conduct a second public meeting on the topic at a location near the Seabrook facility would further undermine the public trust in the commission’s ability and willingness to assure the safety of the reactor.’’
The NRC has set up a Webinar for the April 23 meeting, making it possible for local residents to listen in to the discussion by telephone and to follow the presentation via slides. However, the commission has no plans to schedule a second meeting near Seabrook Station to discuss the concrete-degradation issue.
“We are not at this time planning a separate meeting,’’ said NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan, who added that the commission is scheduled to hold an open house in Hampton, N.H., April 26 regarding its annual assessment of the plant’s safety performance.
“We would be able to discuss the [concrete degradation] topic at that session, on a one-on-one basis, with those who are interested,’’ Sheehan said.
The two-hour meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at One Liberty Lane Conference Center in Hampton. The NRC will respond to questions on specific performance issues at Seabrook Station and the commission’s role in ensuring safe plant operation.
Tierney and Markey said the open house would not adequately address residents’ concerns. In their letter to Jaczko, the lawmakers requested that the NRC hold a meeting “using a traditional public format that enables all attendees to hear all presentation materials, questions, and answers, as opposed to the ‘open house’ style meeting . . . that seems to enable only small-group or one-on-one question-and-answer sessions.’’
Calls for a local meeting on the concrete degradation were prompted by a recent NRC inspection report on Seabrook Station, released last month, that deemed the electric control tunnel “operable but degraded’’ and said that NextEra failed to fully evaluate certain areas related to the degradation.
The issue of alkali-silica reaction was discovered in 2010, shortly after NextEra applied to the NRC for a 20-year extension of its 40-year operating license, which is set to expire in 2030. After the latest NRC inspection report, Mayor James J. Fiorentini of Haverhill also wrote to Jaczko, urging him “to make certain that the Seabrook operators have a plan to fix the degraded concrete and repair this problem prior to relicensing.’’
Fiorentini is the latest local leader to ask the NRC to take immediate action. Several activists and politicians have called on the commission to halt the relicensing process for Seabrook Station until NextEra repairs the concrete, stops the ground water infiltration, and proves the effectiveness of the fix.
To date, the NRC has not halted the relicensing process, but has said that no decision on the license renewal will be made until the extent of the degradation is “fully understood.’’