SEABROOK – The regional watchdog group C-10 this week heralded the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s action formalizing new license conditions for Seabrook Station dealing with concrete degradation – tiny cracks found in areas of the nuclear power plant.
“These conditions, though not all we had hoped for, are vitally important,” said Patricia Skibbee, C-10 Research and Education Foundation’s board president, in a statement issued Wednesday. According to the statement from the Amesbury-based nonprofit, these conditions “must be complied with throughout Seabrook’s operating license term,” which ends in 2050.
On Wednesday the NRC released a memo setting forth plant monitoring conditions that emanated from an August ruling by the commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) in a complaint filed by C-10 to the NRC.
The ASLB imposed new license conditions that direct the plant owner, NextEra Energy, to increase the frequency of instrument monitoring of concrete expansion to as often as every six months. NextEra also will be required to develop a program to either anticipate or monitor reinforced steel, or rebar, failures under some conditions, and conduct petrographic analyses on each core sample taken from the plant’s concrete to detect internal microcracking and delamination. A petrographic analysis is an in-depth investigation of the chemical and physical features of a particular rock sample.
At issue is a form of concrete degradation known as alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, which manifests as tiny cracks found in areas of the plant. C-10’s complaint to the NRC had challenged how well NextEra was monitoring ASR, and raised concerns that ASR might impede the ability of the safety-related structures at Seabrook, including the reactor containment enclosure building and the spent fuel pool, to keep radioactivity from leaking in case of earthquake damage or an accident.
“C-10 brought a very strong case that compelled the NRC’s licensing board to require enhancements in how NextEra manages its concrete cancer,” said Natalie Hildt Treat, C-10 executive director, in the group’s statement. “There is no cure for alkali-silica reaction, but Seabrook’s neighbors can rest a little easier knowing that better science is guiding how the nuclear plant monitors the problem.”
According to C-10, the ASLB rejected NextEra’s proposal to monitor over a period of years. The C-10 statement cited the ruling: “This schedule fails to provide adequate protection of public health and safety... That premise is fundamental to NextEra’s monitoring program, and if it is incorrect, potentially damaging ASR expansion could go undetected for years. There is no apparent reason why NextEra should not monitor these control extensometers every six months.”
NextEra Energy also issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying, “We are pleased that the ASLB has confirmed that Seabrook’s program to monitor and manage ASR is comprehensive and effective. Nothing is more important than the safety of employees and the public, and our robust ASR program is part of that commitment to safety.”