SEABROOK — NextEra Energy says Seabrook Station is operating safely and that its generator circuit breaker meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission requirements, contrary to a Massachusetts state senator's letter, which expressed concerns about the switch being "outdated" and "overloaded."
State Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, sent a letter to NextEra Energy Chairman and CEO James Robo and regional Vice President Eric McCartney on June 15, noting safety concerns on behalf of the more than 100,000 residents she represents in Amesbury, Merrimac, Newburyport and Salisbury who live within Seabrook Station’s 10-mile Plume Exposure Emergency Planning Zone.
Her letter also referenced tens of thousands of additional residents in Haverhill, Methuen and North Andover who reside in the station’s Ingestion Exposure Pathway and are, therefore, vulnerable to radiation contact.
"Given the potential impact of any safety incidents on residents, I was concerned to learn that the NRC has begun an investigation at the Seabrook Station focused on NextEra’s refusal to replace an outdated, overloaded generator circuit breaker," DiZoglio said, a claim that NextEra's spokesman refuted.
DiZoglio, a candidate for state auditor, wrote, “Whatever the risk, there can be no trade-offs between money, nuclear power and people’s well-being.”
But Peter Robbins, director of nuclear communications for NextEra, denied any investigation into Seabrook Station by the NRC. He said questions about the circuit breaker have to do with a proposed expansion of the electric grid, not safety of the plant's current operations.
"First and foremost, Seabrook is operating safely," he wrote in a statement Monday. "There is no Nuclear Regulatory Commission 'investigation' ongoing and any allegation to the contrary is false.
"The NRC referred an allegation that it received to Seabrook to address questions about whether the generator circuit breaker at Seabrook meets NRC regulatory requirements," Robbins wrote. "Seabrook will evaluate NRC’s questions and respond to the NRC directly. Seabrook is confident that the plant is in compliance with all NRC regulatory requirements."
NextEra Energy reportedly responded to DiZoglio's inquiry in a letter dated June 18, but the state senator did not receive it until Monday due to a technical error. DiZoglio said she still stands by her concerns.
The question of whether Seabrook Station should replace its generator circuit breaker came about through discussions about the New England Clean Energy Connect, which is a proposed transmission line under development by Avangrid to bring hydropower from Canada to Maine and other parts of New England.
Robbins said that ISO New England Inc. "very clearly stated" in a May 6 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that "the Seabrook Station circuit breaker upgrade was not required 'but for' the interconnection of the (New England Clean Energy Connect) Project."
"Therefore, if no request for the upgrade was made by NECEC, there would be no need to upgrade it," Robbins said.
Natalie Hildt Treat, executive director of the Amesbury-based nuclear safety group C-10 Research and Education Foundation, shared DiZoglio’s concerns.
“Anytime there are allegations of a safety issue at Seabrook Station, C-10 takes them seriously,” Treat said. “When I heard about the issue of the generator circuit breaker, I called the NRC’s resident inspector, Chris Newport, and our independent expert, David Lochbaum, to get more background on how this equipment works and why it’s important.
“My understanding is that if there’s a fault, the breaker needs to backfeed off-site power from the grid, otherwise the plant must rely on its back-up diesel generators,” she said.
“It sounds like a no-brainer to replace this circuit breaker,” Treat said. “It’s old, outdated and overloaded, and could have safety-related consequences if it fails. While I can’t speak to all the challenges, it seems like the issue is more about who profits than it is about what’s technically feasible.”
In a statement to The Daily News this week, DiZoglio added, “When people live in the shadow of a nuclear facility, they deserve answers and information regarding public safety.”