NRC tells public Seabrook is safe, admits concrete a reason for concern

Once a year the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) holds a public meeting for the people who live near nuclear power plants to hear from them that everything is A-Okay. That the plant receives thousands of hours of inspection, and any problems are minor, and the public is safe.

Last week was our turn, as about dozen NRC staffers came to offer their presentation about safety at Seabrook Station. It was not long on details. Of course, the folks from NextEra, Seabrook’s owner, were in the room. But they were quiet. The ones who had a lot to say and tough questions to ask were state legislators from either side of the border, and concerned citizens – several of whom sit on the C-10 Foundation’s board of directors, and who have closely followed developments with Seabrook’s failing concrete. 

The C-10 Foundation has long warned of the irreversible concrete degradation known as alkali-silica reaction, or “ASR” that is ongoing at Seabrook Station. That nobody, especially the public, really knows the extent or the rate of the problem. And while NextEra and the NRC have deemed the concrete “degraded but operable,” there is no way of knowing if and when that status could suddenly change.

More on C-10’s contentions and why we believe the concrete issues deserve serious consideration under Seabrook’s current operating license and attempts to renew it are on our website.

As Seacoast Online reported, because the ASR was identified in the concrete after the plant was built, NRC panelists said the plant is technically considered “degraded but operable.”

C-10 board member Sarah Doenmez pressed the NRC about the ability of Seabrook’s failing concrete to protect the public.

C-10 Board member Sarah Doenmez traveled from her home in Dublin, NH to question the NRC panel. Doenmez expressed concern that ASR’s rate of the degradation cannot be tracked or stopped, which NRC officials stated during the meeting.

“When you’re thinking about extending (Seabrook Station’s) license, if you cannot calculate the rate, and you know that as you said yourself, the action is going to continue as long as the (ASR) is there, how can I… have any faith in the ongoing safety of this plant under those circumstances?” asked Doenmez.

Jimi Yerokun, deputy director for reactor safety for the NRC’s Region 1, said Seabrook Station has demonstrated it can currently operate safely despite the ASR.

“You have a right to be concerned. I’m concerned,” Yerokun told those in attendance. “The only thing I can tell you is, if we have doubts… we will not accept (the license extension).”

In April, C-10 Foundation filed a motion to intervene in the NRC’s regulatory proceeding about Seabrook’s License Amendment Request, which plant owner NextEra Energy had to file to explain why they think the degraded concrete will still keep us safe. We have brought forth a number of contentions as to why the NRC should hold a hearing, and why we should be admitted as interveners. The challenge now is to convince the NRC’s Atomic Safety Licensing Board that as a citizens group working for safety of those who live and work near Seabrook Station, we have legal standing to do so.

Next up:  a June 29 hearing where C-10 Foundation will make our oral case as to why we should be admitted. NRC’s legal staff and NextEra’s lawyers are working hard to have our petition dismissed. Now it’s up to the Atomic Safety Licensing Board to decide between what we see as common sense arguments and the legal technicalities as to how we, as non-lawyers, seek to make our case.

If you want to listen in from home at 10 AM on Thursday, June 29, grab some popcorn and RSVP to the Board’s law clerk, Julie Reynolds-Engel, at 301-415-5680 or julie.reynolds-engel@nrc.gov no later than Tuesday, June 27, 2017, to register.