As Federal Hearing Begins, Seabrook Nuclear Plant’s Neighbors Raise Alarm About Concrete Degradation

Sep 24, 2019

Seabrook Station nuclear power plant, Seabrook, N.H.
Credit NHPR Staff

Neighbors of the Seabrook nuclear power plant called for more transparent, independent monitoring of the facility’s degrading concrete at a federal hearing Monday.

They spoke before a panel of administrative judges, who will spend the week weighing whether Seabrook’s owner, NextEra, has adequately studied the cracks forming in the plant’s concrete.

The hearing was granted to Seabrook watchdog group C-10, which cites an independent expert in contending that NextEra didn’t properly study the cracks in order to write their monitoring plan.

Seabrook is the nation’s only nuclear plant known to be experiencing the chemical reaction that causes that problem. Known as alkali-silica reaction or ASR, it can be common in concrete structures such as bridges and dams.

NextEra commissioned a study of the reaction, which replicated it in laboratory conditions with concrete that was not from Seabrook.

They based their monitoring plan for Seabrook’s concrete on that study, and regulators approved that plan earlier this year. But nearby residents like Jack Santos don’t trust it’ll be adequate.

“Consider independent, public-professionally verified results that reflect real on-site tests, and share those with those of us whose lives depend on it,” Santos said during testimony before the administrative judges Monday.

Newburyport city councilor Afroz Khan asks a panel of federal administrative judges to require stricter monitoring of concrete cracks at Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.
Credit Annie Ropeik for NHPR

Some who testified said they support the plant, if it’s deemed safe, arguing that using nuclear power prevents further deployment of fossil fuels.

Others said Seabrook is past its prime and should be shut down.

“I would ask you to please just let the Seabrook license expire,” said New Hampshire state Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat who protested Seabrook when it was first proposed and built in the 1970s and 80s. “I think ASR is a compelling reason to close it right now.”

Regulators extended Seabrook’s operating license through 2050 earlier this year, despite calls from advocates and government officials to delay that decision until after the ASR hearing.

The results of this hearing are due out by January. In them, the administrative judges could direct the NRC to impose new conditions on NextEra’s operation of Seabrook.

The plant is one of two nuclear facilities left in the region. The other is the two-reactor Millstone Station in Connecticut, owned by Virginia-based Dominion Power. Together, the two plants typically generate about a third of New England’s electricity.