NRC defends Seabrook Station’s license extension

By Max Sullivan 

Posted Feb 14, 2019 at 6:16 PMUpdated Feb 14, 2019 at 6:16 PM

HAMPTON -- U.S. nuclear officials said they’re not “rushing to judgment” on an early decision to grant Seabrook Station’s license extension when pressed in a public meeting Wednesday.

Joe Donoghue, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s acting director of re-licensing, told a packed Best Western Plus conference room in Hampton Wednesday night that the NRC has spent two years examining whether NextEra Energy can track concrete degradation in its plant’s structures. The degradation, known as alkali-silica reaction, was found in the plant in 2010 and was considered the last major hurdle for Seabrook Station’s 20-year license extension.

While the NRC’s Jan. 11 announcement that it planned to issue the extension came sooner than previously expected, Donoghue said an efficient but thorough examination by NRC staff showed the degradation can be monitored. He also said feedback from the watchdog group C-10 Foundation could still sway the commission towards amending the license further, C-10 members concerned the approval came prematurely before their hearing later this year.

“We made our safety conclusions and don’t see any safety concerns with issuing the amendment and the renewed license,” said Donoghue.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said the NRC will officially issue the extension in the near future. Wednesday’s meeting was called after the NRC was criticized for announcing its intention to grant the license extension before C-10 could have its hearing on ASR later this year. New Hampshire’s congressional delegates were among the elected leaders who called on the NRC to hold at least one more public meeting so public concerns could be aired.

C-10 also filed an emergency petition in federal court asking the commission’s decisions on the license amendment and renewal be suspended.

Wednesday’s meeting drew a standing room only crowd comprised of both advocates and opponents for Seabrook Station’s license extension. The back wall was lined with union workers to show support for the plant’s continued life, while nuclear skeptics and opponents, including elected officials, grilled NRC panelists on their decision. The meeting lasted about three hours.

Current and former officials and lawmakers came to represent both sides. Seabrook Selectman Aboul Khan appeared to speak in favor of the extension, while former Rye state rep. Mindi Messmer questioned the validity of recent NextEra-funded testing on ASR.

Some continued to express frustration with the NRC despite Donoghue assuring them the January decision was not undermining C-10′s future hearing. Speakers pointed to the fact the re-licensing process has lasted almost a decade and that the plant’s current license will not expire until 2030.

“What difference does it make if you waited six months?” asked Doug Bogen of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League. “After nine years (since discovering ASR in the plant) you’d think you could wait another six months.”

Mindi Messmer