Watchdog Focuses NRC on Seabrook Station Concrete

Tuesday March 14, 2023

REGIONAL – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a final denial this month of the C-10 Research and Education Foundation’s petition that asked it to require NextEra, the owner of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant, to take steps to combat the cracking concrete at the station.
The federal regulators affirmed its previous ruling that C-10’s petition raises issues that “have previously been the subject of a facility specific or generic NRC staff review.”
Despite the denial, C-10, a non-profit, citizens watchdog for the plant, believes its petition and three days of hearings forced the NRC to focus more attention on the concrete degradation, caused by the Alkali Silica Reaction (ASR) at the Seabrook plant weeks ahead of a scheduled inspection of the plant’s concrete.
“The timing is in our favor,” wrote Sarah Abramson, C-10’s executive director, in a message to members.
Michele Sampson, deputy director for the Division of Engineering and External Hazards in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, promised, “Currently, the ASR at Seabrook is being monitored by NextEra and overseen by the NRC staff as part of the ROP (Reactor Oversight Process). Where the NRC staff considers enforcement action warranted, enforcement action will be taken consistent with NRC regulations and enforcement policy. Monitoring of ASR-affected structures and all other safety structures will continue for the plant’s service life.”
The C-10 petition last year asked federal regulators to issue an enforcement action at the Seabrook Station because of “its repeated failures to adhere to its license requirements, especially the plant’s failures pertaining to the Alkali Silica Reaction (ASR) driven damage causing cracking and weakening of the plant’s concrete structures,” Abramson wrote in an earlier email.
The principal concern is that the ASR will weaken the plant walls and in the event of an earthquake cause structures to fall in on themselves. This might allow leaks of radiation from the plant, Abramson said.
Seabrook Station is the only U.S. nuclear plant that suffers from ASR degradation in its concrete.
The Seabrook Station, which generates electricity for 1.4 million New England customers, is licensed to operate until 2050. As part of its license renewal, NextEra Energy was required to inspect the expansion of the ASR every 10 years, but C-10 sued in 2019 and won. The plant must now be inspected for ASR every six months.
The non-profit C-10, from its headquarters at CI Works in Amesbury, operates a real-time radiological monitoring network in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It tracks and advocates about safety and security concerns at the plant.
In its multi-page denial of C-10’s petition, the NRC stated: “The NRC staff’s position is that every structure at Seabrook is currently able to perform its safety function, including those which are affected by ASR.”
Abramson said she found this statement “problematic,” because C-10 and “any other rational person understands that nobody knows the totality of the ASR-caused damage at the plant.
“New areas are being discovered every year. These new areas did not just pop up overnight, they have been there for a while and are added to the list when either an inspector or plant employee happens upon them.”
Abramson wrote that it is logical that other ASR points of decay are not yet known. As C-10’s petition states, “the shortcomings of the plant’s actions (or inaction) are severe enough to be written up violations and show a pattern of repetitive negligence.”
The NRC ruled that because “the violations are not willful, they do not meet the criteria for further enforcement.”
C-10 praised the resident NRC inspectors, whom, it said, “have demonstrated their commitment to hold NextEra to the requirements related to ASR to the fullest extent allowed by current regulations.” The inspectors’ objectivity, it said, “is critical in catching, reporting and enforcing violations by the plant.”

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