EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

December 27, 2013

Editorial: Let science set fate of Seabrook license

There are probably very few people in this region who are happy to live in the shadow of the Seabrook nuclear power plant.

The very worst that can happen -- a major malfunction, a release of radiation, and a complete evacuation of the coastal region -- is something that every person in the area must be prepared for.

That said, it's easy to see why the demand by a number of regional politicians and advocacy groups recently to shut down the plant immediately would resonate with the public.

We are not among those who feel that an immediate shutdown is a wise course of action. It is an unrealistic demand to make on a plant that has proven to be a safe and reliable source of much needed energy. Seabrook's lifespan, though complicated by the discovery of degrading concrete in some areas of the plant, is not yet fulfilled. Political saber-rattling won't change that.

It would be far more productive to continue to focus on the scientific arguments surrounding Seabrook's efforts to have its license extended by 20 years. It currently expires in 2030; Seabrook is in the process of having it extended to 2050.

Many critics have argued that the relicensing process is occurring prematurely, particularly given the discovery of alkali-silica reaction in concrete that has been penetrated by water. The chemical reaction causes cracks in concrete and gradually degrades its strength, though the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the ASR discovered at Seabrook has thus far not compromised the plant's safety.

The ASR problem will no doubt be the deciding factor in whether the license is extended; indeed the NRC has made that clear numerous times.

Newburyport-based C10, a non-profit watchdog group, deserves particular mention for its efforts to bring professional and scientific data to the conversation. C10 and the Union of Concerned Scientists have funded studies of Seabrook's ASR by noted Penn State professor Paul Brown, an expert in the field of concrete engineering. Brown's studies have brought needed expertise, challenging the work of the NRC and the plant's owner. If the NRC is ever going to side with those who want the plant to shut down or its license not renewed, the decision will clearly require the kind of scientific data that Brown can provide.

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