Energy Central News

Curated power industry news from thousands of top sources.

News

Seabrook nuclear power plant's license extension upheld, with conditions

Source: 
The Hampton Union

SEABROOK – After nearly a year of analysis, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board upheld the operating license amendment to NextEra Energy's nuclear power plant in Seabrook.

The board in its 207-page ruling Friday, Sept. 11, however, imposed four additional conditions to address further on the alkali-silica reaction (ASR) concrete degradation issues within the plant's structures.

The amendment, requested by NextEra Energy Seabrook in 2016, relates to monitoring the physical impact ASR will have on the safe operation of the plant as it ages. The ASL Board concluded the additional conditions are necessary to ensure adequate health and safety protections for the public, according to the ruling released to the public.

ASR is a slow-developing type of degradation found in some concrete when moisture is present. It was discovered at Seabrook Station about 10 years ago, just as NextEra was applying for a 20-year extension of its original 40-year operating license. The license amendment was filed by NextEra following its license extension application to indicate how the company will address ASR's progression in its concrete walls as the plant ages.

ASR manifests as micro-cracking, staining and deformation of concrete. So far, the NRC's repeated inspections determined ASR in Seabrook Station's structures poses no immediate public safety concerns because of the significant safety margins built into the plant.

Seabrook Station is the only American nuclear power plant exhibiting ASR, although it has been found in nuclear plants elsewhere in the world. The phenomenon is often found in dams and bridges.

Following nearly a decade of scrutiny, in March 2019 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved both NextEra's license amendment to 2050 and its license extension request. The approval came a few months after the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, which advises the NRC, concluded that while the plant's structures are degraded due to ASR, "they are fully capable of performing their credited function through the requested (period of extended operation) under the committed enhanced monitoring and evaluations."

C-10, an Amesbury, Massachusetts-based nuclear watchdog funded by the state of Massachusetts to monitor Seabrook Station, filed a contention against the Nuclear Regulatory Agency's approval of the amendment and the license extension. C-10 cited the insufficiency of the amendment's ASR monitoring basis and procedures, which led to a hearing before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board last September.

The ASLB is an independent body of the commission – similar to a district court – which adjudicates legal challenges to NRC rulings.

According to the NRC's September 11 press release, the ASL Board upheld the approval of the license amendment, but imposed the following four conditions:

* NextEra will monitor certain devices measuring concrete expansion every six months, rather than starting in 2025 and every 10 years after that;

* If stress analyses show degradation-related expansion and other forces will exceed the strength of rebar in the concrete, NextEra must monitor the affected rebar to ensure it has not yielded or failed, or detect such failure if it has already occurred;

* If the degradation-related expansion rate in any area of a "seismic Category I" structure significantly exceeds a certain limit, NextEra will evaluate whether to implement more frequent monitoring; and

* Each concrete core extracted from Seabrook must undergo a detailed microscopic evaluation to detect degradation-related features.

According to Lindsay Robertson, senior communications specialist for NextEra Energy, there is nothing more important to the company than the safety of its employees and the public, and its "robust ASR program is part of that commitment to safety."

"We are pleased that the ASLB has resolved the legal challenge in favor of NextEra Energy Seabrook," according to a statement by Robertson. "Seabrook's program to monitor and manage ASR is comprehensive and effective. Public dialogue is an ongoing component of the NRC's regulatory process, and we appreciate having had the opportunity to share the scientific basis of our testing and monitoring programs with the ASLB."

Robertson said NextEra is currently analyzing its next steps as it reviews the ASLB decision.

According to C-10 Executive Director Natalie Hildt Treat, the ASL Board's ruling directed NextEra Energy Seabrook "to conduct much more frequent and detailed monitoring and engineering evaluations in a number of situations" related to ASR's progression in the walls of the plant's structures by increasing the frequency of testing and including petrographic analysis on every concrete test core extracted to determine the degree of degradation.

"While the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ultimately accepted the company's concrete testing program," Treat wrote in her press release, "it did so with several important conditions that will do more to ensure the health and safety of the public."

However, C-10 already filed a motion asking for more specificity on the timeline that applies to the conditions, according to Neil Sheehan, spokesman for NRC Region 1.

ASLB decisions can be appealed to the five-member Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which heads the federal agency.

Discussions

No discussions yet. Start a discussion below.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »