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Seabrook Concrete Degradation Raises Concerns

Citizens' Group Files Petition over Concrete Degradation at Seabrook Nuclear Station

A citizens’ group has filed an emergency petition asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to postpone relicensing of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station until the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board can review concrete degradation problems at the plant.

Joe Donoghue, NRC acting director for relicensing, said at a Feb. 13 meeting that the NRC is moving forward with the license renewal for Seabrook Station through 2050 after finding no safety issues.

But Victor Saouma, a civil engineering professor at the University of Colorado and internationally recognized expert on alkali silica reaction, has reviewed the results of multi-year testing at the University of Texas lab and said in C-10’s petition that NextEra’s and the NRC staff’s conclusions “are not well-founded.”  Saouma states that tests run at the lab were “substandard and inadequate.”

Federal ruling due in January


A federal administrative hearing with a panel of judges wrapped up Friday. It focused on whether Seabrook owner NextEra has adequately studied the degrading concrete at the plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved NextEra's concrete monitoring plan based on that study and relicensed the plant earlier this year.

Seabrook is the only nuclear plant in the country known to be experiencing the chemical reaction that causes concrete to develop hairline cracks.

"There aren't really the right protocols to figure out, for the NRC, guiding them to how to deal with this,” says Natalie Treat, executive director of the nonprofit, C-10. She spoke on NHPR’s The Exchange Monday.

Treat’s group brought the complaint that resulted in last week's hearing. Their star witness was a national third-party expert on the type of concrete degradation Seabrook is experiencing.
The U.S. may soon have the world’s oldest nuclear power plants..

With the Trump administration's permission, many nuclear power plants in the U.S. may soon extend the life of their reactors far beyond their 60-year licenses

“We are talking about running machines that were designed in the 1960s, constructed in the 1970s and have been operating under the most extreme radioactive and thermal conditions imaginable,” said Damon Moglen, an official with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “There is no other country in the world that is thinking about operating reactors in the 60 to 80-year time frame. 

Critics such as Edwin Lyman, a nuclear energy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argue that older plants contain “structures that can’t be replaced or repaired,” including the garage-sized steel reactor vessels that contain tons of nuclear fuel and can grow brittle after years of being bombarded by radioactive neutrons. “They just get older and older,” he said. If the vessel gets brittle, it becomes vulnerable to cracking or even catastrophic failure. That risk increases if it’s cooled down too rapidly—say in the case of a disaster, when cold water must be injected into the core to prevent a meltdown. 


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