Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant - Issue Summary

Should the license for the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant be renewed?

Seabrook

By: LFDA Editor

NextEra Energy Seabrook is seeking to renew the Seabrook Nuclear Power plant's operating license, but the process has encountered several roadblocks, delaying the license approval.

On June 1, 2010, NextEra Energy filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to renew the plant's operating license for 20 years -- from 2030 to 2050. 

The NRC license renewal process generally takes 22-to-30 months following application submission. Aside from a thorough review and inspection, the renewal process also includes several public hearings.

Under NRC regulations, the original operating license for a nuclear power plant has a term of 40 years. A plant license may be renewed for up to an additional 20 years.

The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant is a pressurized water reactor that sits on a 900-acre site in the towns of Seabrook, Hampton and Hampton Falls. It began operation in 1990 and generates approximately 1 million watts of electricity - enough to power 900,000 homes daily. Forty-four percent of New Hampshire's electricity is generated by Seabrook, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Proponents of nuclear power say it is a clean energy source that helps reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil. Opponents believe the risks of radioactive contamination outweigh the benefits.

Nuclear power safety was thrust back into the media spotlight with the earthquake/tsunami-induced meltdown of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Spent fuel rods caught fire and released radioactive material after the plant’s cooling system failed.

According to NextEra Energy:

  • The (Seabrook) plant is designed to withstand the force of the earthquake that hit the Japanese plants, which is significantly higher than any recorded earthquake in New England history.
     
  • The plant is located two miles inland and elevated 20 feet above sea level to protect against flooding and extreme storm surges.

Spent fuel rods are stored in cooling pools at Seabrook and other nuclear plants across the country because the U.S. lacks a central repository. Congress passed a law in 2002 designating Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a repository for high-level nuclear waste, but Energy Secretary Steven Chu decided to terminate the project this year.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's Operating Safety Review Team released its evaluation of Seabrook in April 2012. The investigation uncovered alkali-silica reaction (ASR) in several concrete structures. ASR is a slow chemical reaction that ultimately leads to micro-cracks in concrete and cement.

While NextEra is taking steps to mitigate the problem, the NRC estimates ASR has delayed Seabrook’s re-licensing application several years while it waits for testing to be completed by the University of Texas.

Citizen opposition:

Opponents of the Seabrook license extension filed federal action against the NRC in March 2012, accusing the commission of violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it voted against allowing three groups (the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Beyond Nuclear) into a NEPA hearing to discuss energy alternatives to nuclear power. The NRC opted to allow the groups into the hearing, but then reversed the ruling. An additional lawsuit was filed against the NRC on August 16 due to the ruling reversal, citing an additional violation of the Atomic Energy Act.

In November 2012, the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston heard the first oral arguments from in the case. The groups argue that alternative energies will likely emerge in the coming years, rendering the Seabrook energy supplies (and its relicensing) unnecessary. In January 2013, the Federal Appeals Court rejected the petition of the groups, barring them from participating in the process. Two other citizen groups, Friends of the Coast and the New England Coalition, are also opposing the relicensing.


NRC Safety Evaluation Report:

More concerns about the plant came about after a routine drill at the Seabrook Station in April 2012, when the employees failed to recognize a signal for radioactivity release, among other signals. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued the plant a “white inspection finding,” which signifies a low- to moderate-safety issue. A spokesman for the plant told WMUR that the issues were being addressed.

Following the safety drill issue, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its Safety Evaluation Report of the Seabrook Station on June 8, 2012, and listed the following safety-related issues as “open items” to be addressed by the Station. The Station is required to address these issues, as they act as roadblocks to the approval of the license extension.

According to the Safety Evaluation Report, the issues for the Station to address are:

  • the aforementioned alkali-silica reaction, which is causing the degradation of concrete essential to the plant’s structure 
  • issues with water leakage between the two containment shells surrounding the reactor 
  • plans to maintain the aging plant structure during the remainder of its license and into the extended period 
  • assessment and replacement of degrading bolts and welds on the structure 
  • the issue of borated water and its effects on the structure 
  • standards for pressure-temperature margins around use of fragile vessels in nuclear reaction stress or damage that water intrusion may be causing 

  • Five NRC staff visited the plant on June 18, 2012, but declined to speak with press about the visit. The visit was called “routine” and intended for the staff to become more familiar with the plant before making any decisions on relicensing. 

    The plant received a clean report card from its quarterly inspection on June 30.

    On August 7, the NRC issued a blanket decision that will prevent any nuclear power plant from being officially granted a license or relicense while an investigation is conducted to uncover potential environmental issues surrounding the storage of spent fuel rods and other radioactive waste. The decision came after a petition from environmental groups was submitted to the NRC, urging the commission to comply with an order from the federal Appeals Court to conduct this review. Licensing reviews will continue to take place. A spokesman for Seabrook Station declared that the effect of this decision would have little effect on the relicensing of New Hampshire’s plant.

    Earthquake response: A 4.0 magnitude earthquake shook New Hampshire on October 16, prompting the plant to announce that it incurred “an unusual event,” which is an NRC emergency classification (the lowest level of four). An inspection by the NRC’s resident inspector confirmed that there was no safety concern as a result of the earthquake.

    Massachusetts intervention: In September, two legislators from Massachusetts proposed a bill to prevent nuclear plants from applying for relicensing more than 10 years ahead of expiration of the current license. Reps Edward Markey and John Tierney submitted Mass. bill HR 6554.

    The latest: 

    The NRC held an information night on December 11, 2012, to update the public and watchdog groups on the ASR issue. The NRC maintains that the plant is safe for operations, and has scheduled the next inspection for early 2013. The evaluation of the plant by the NRC continues.

    In the meantime, the NRC has set up the following webpage to continue the information release to the public on the happenings with Seabrook Station: http://www.nrc.gov/info-finder/reactor/seabrook/concrete-degradation.html

    In February 2013, the NRC announced that the issues caused by ASR would not be considered in the relicensing hearings due to a two-month-late filing of the paperwork. The NRC confirmed that an opportunity to raise the issue at a later date would be available to the groups who filed the challenge, the Friends of the Coast and the New England Coalition. 

    The NRC announced in May 2013 that it still considers valid the two-year-old study conducted to determine the environmental safety of extending the operating license, after an April report details some of the plant's issues. The supplemental environmental statement maintains that the plant is suited to withstand a seismic event and that there are no new concerns regarding the disposal of radioactive fuel rods.  

    A team of international safety experts visited the plant in June 2013 to review the safety issues discovered in 2011. Known as an Operational Safety Review Team visit, the group came from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. 

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent a team of inspectors to the plant at the end of July 2013. The team audited the "seismic walkdowns," or exams assessing the adverse effects of seismic activity on equipment, of the plant based on requirements coming from the Fukushima, Japan, meltdown in 2011. Seabrook is one of eight plants in the country that is being evaluated.

    Friends of the Coast/New England Coalition, which had been protesting the relicensing of Seabrook Station, reached a settlement with station owner NextEra in August of 2013. The settlement was approved by the NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. This cleared the final contention against the relicensing of the plant by nuclear safety advocates.

    A June 2014 meeting was held by the NRC to inform area residents that the plant was deemed to have operated safely in 2013 despite its degradation. The relicensing of the plant will be considered after ASR testing is conducted at the University of Texas, which is anticipated to take a few years. Officials also said that 171 areas of degradation were found through recent inspections, up from 131 discovered in 2013.

    During a June 30, 2014, inspection, Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff discovered two new "green" issues of low safety significance and one violation. One of the "green" findings looks at the degradation of the concrete in the plant's residual heat-removal vaults. concrete residual heat removal vaults. The other related to the early turning off of two of the plant's four reactor coolant pumps during scheduled shutdown. The violation was for the 17-month period in which three of the plant's four reactor coolant pump undervoltage trip channels were left inoperable. The plant was not cited for the violation.

    In September 2014, a presidential commission approved an environmental study and passed down a ruling maintaining that states' spent fuel from nuclear power plants can be stored on-site for an indefinite amount of time, permitted that certain protective strategies are in place. Shortly thereafter, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspended a rule that prevented the relicensing of nuclear power plants based on concerns about spent fuel rod storage.

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Pros

Pro Issue Opinion by LFDA Editor



Efficiency:

  • One uranium fuel pellet can deliver the power production equivalent of 1 ton of coal, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 149 gallons of oil and 5,000 pounds of wood.1
Low Electricity Cost:

  • Nuclear plants are the lowest-cost producer of baseload electricity. The average production cost of 2.14 cents per kilowatt-hour includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing fuel and paying for the management of used fuel.2
Environmentally friendly:

  • Nuclear power plants emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal, fuel or gas plants.
Reliability:

  • Nuclear energy is not affected by weather conditions, volatile market fluctuations, or dependence on foreign suppliers.

1. Nuclear Energy Institute Fuel Chart
2. Nuclear Energy Institute Key Issues
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Con
Con Issue Opinion by LFDA editor



Safety:
  • Accidents and malfunctions at nuclear power plants can result in the release of large amounts of radiation. Human exposure to high levels of radiation can result in severe illness, cancer and death.
Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attacks:Waste disposal remains a serious challenge:
  • High level nuclear waste (plutonium, uranium and spent fuel rods) is highly radioactive and remains dangerous for thousands of years. There is approximately 70,000 metric tons of high level nuclear waste stored at reactor sites across the country. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 mandated the federal government establish a national repository, but it has yet to do so.
Cost/Construction:
  • The construction of a new nuclear power plant can take about 10 years and cost approximately $2 billion. It can also cost billions of dollars to decommission older plants.
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Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant Member Posts
Take Action

If you are interested in the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant license renewal and want to take action here are some choices:

  • If you are new to contacting your government, please visit our page on How to Take Action.
  • Contact one of the organizations listed in Learn More. These groups represent the pro or con positions of issues.
  • Contact a government official as follows:

1. Contact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

2. Contact members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives or the New Hampshire Senate.

3. Give your opinion to Governor Maggie Hassan

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Learn More/Take Action

Are you interested in the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant license renewal? Whatever your thoughts are, we urge you to make your voice heard. See the "Learn More/Take Action" section on this page for more information.

Issue Status

The June 2012 Safety Evaluation Report by the NRC identified open item safety issues to be addressed by the plant before relicensing can be considered.

The NRC maintains that the plant is safe for operations. The evaluation of the plant by the NRC continues.

News

November 22, 2014
Eagle Tribune: NRC inspection finds three violations at Seabrook plant
September 26, 2014
Seacoast Online: Town reaches deal with nuke plant over taxes
September 11, 2014
Seacoast Online: Seabrook Station nuclear power plant clears big hurdle
August 12, 2014
Seacoast Online: New concrete woes found at nuke plant
July 10, 2014
Seacoast Online: Seabrook Station license renewal delayed by NRC
June 27, 2014
Seacoast Online: Safety under scrutiny at nuclear plant
June 24, 2014
Seacoast Online: Seabrook Station extension dependent upon investigation results
April 25, 2014

Seacoast Online: Seabrook Station deemed vulnerable to earthquake threats
February 26, 2014
Seacoast Online: $800M energy project would have big impact in Seabrook
December 27, 2013

Seacoast Online: NRC: More info needed on concrete degradation at Seabrook Station
December 20, 2013
Union Leader: Seabrook nuclear power plant discussion continues on concrete degradation
Patch.com: Group calls for early shutdown of Seabrook station
December 19, 2013
Seacoast Online: Seabrook nuclear power plant draws criticism
December 18, 2013
Seacoast Online: Mass. politicians to NRC: Don't relicense Seabrook nuke plant
Seacoast Online: Relicensing of Seabrook nuclear power plant draws fire
NHPR: Seabrook's concrete degradation problems being tested at University of Texas
December 11, 2013
Foster's Daily Democrat: NRC to hold meetings on Seabrook concrete issues
December 1, 2013
NHPR: Seabrook owners, union reach deal to avert lockout
November 26, 2013
Seacoast Online: Seabrook nuke plant to union: accept contract or face lockout
November 18, 2013
Seacoast Online: Bill to curb Seabrook nuke plant's tax break is killed
November 8, 2013
WMUR: Governor tours Seabrook nuclear plant
Seacoast Online: Study: Seabrook Station has $535M economic impact in NH
November 7, 2013
NHPR: NRC Chairman Allison MacFarlane visits Seabrook Nuclear Plant, discusses concrete degradation
October 15, 2013
Foster's Daily Democrat: NH Seabrook nuke plant has NE's fewest violations
October 11, 2013
Seacoast Online: NRC: Seabrook plant fixing concrete cracks
October 8, 2013
Seacoast Online: Amid shutdown, forum nixed on nuke plant
October 4, 2013
Foster's Daily Democrat: NRC cancels open house, meeting on concrete degradation at Seabrook
September 27, 2013
Reuters: NRC to meet on concrete flaw at New Hampshire Seabrook reactor
August 27, 2013
Seacoast Online: Another hurdle overcome in nuke plant relicensing bid
August 22, 2013
Seacoast Online: Fire call at Seabrook nuclear plant 'no concern,' chief says
July 12, 2013
Foster's Daily Democrat: Feds highlight Seabrook station in advisory to nuke plants
June 3, 2013

Seacoast Online: International safety team at Seabrook Station
May 13, 2013
Seacoast Online: NRC still backs Seabrook nuke plant's environmental safety
April 9, 2013
NHPR: Rising tides in Seabrook: is the nuclear station ready for higher seas 
March 7, 2013
Seacoast Online: Spent fuel rods stored at Seabrook, other nuke plants under review
February 25, 2013
Seacoast Online: Concrete cracks won't factor into nuclear power plant relicensing
January 6, 2013
NHPR: Anti-nuclear groups won't have role in Seabrook re-licensing
December 12, 2012
Eagle Tribune: NRC will continue review of Seabrook
November 10, 2012
Foster's Daily Democrat: Alternative energy backers go to court in Seabrook Station fight
November 5, 2012
Patch.com: Environmental groups to address Seabrook nuke plant relicensing
October 8, 2012
Seacoast Online: Bill could delay Seabrook nuclear plant relicensing
August 17, 2012
Patch.com: Activists taking NRC to court over Seabrook Station
August 13, 2012
Gloucester Times: Seabrook plant clears quarterly inspection
August 13, 2012
Seacoast Online: Nuclear waste storage issue halts plant licensing
August 7, 2012
Seacoast Online: NRC announces additional oversight of Seabrook plant
June 28, 2012
Seacoast Online: NRC lawyers: Delay power plant licensing
June 22, 2012
Hampton Union: Nuclear plant relicensing opponents challenge NRC
June 15, 2012
Hampton Union: Seabrook nuke plant relicensing process delayed
May 15, 2012
Seacoast Online: Anti-nuke groups sue to block Seabrook license
April 1, 2012
Boston.com: NRC inspectors fault Seabrook concrete
March 29, 2012
Daily News of Newburyport: Report find breaches at plant
March 21, 2012
Foster's Daily Democrat: NRC cuts to 2 intervenors vs. nuke plan license extension
March 9, 2012
Newburyport Current: NRC rules against Seabrook foes on key issues
December 11, 2011
Seacoast Online: Concrete deterioration at Seabrook prompts national warning

August 8, 2011
Foster's: Public input sought on nuclear plant's license extension

June 9, 2011
Concord Monitor: Safety review team visiting NH nuclear plant

May 6, 2011
NHPR: Seabrook licensing request brings up old, new issues

April 7, 2011
WWLP: Activists rally against nuclear energy

March 28, 2011
Seacoast Online: Smoke prompts 'unusual event' declaration at Seabrook

March 25, 2011
Seacoast Online: House kills nuke plant monitoring bill

March 18, 2011
Seacoast Online: Seabrook Station: Could it happen here