Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant

LFDA Editor

NextEra Energy Seabrook is seeking to renew the Seabrook Nuclear Power plant's operating license, but the process has encountered several roadblocks, delaying the license approval.

Process for renewing the license

On June 1, 2010, NextEra Energy filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to renew the plant's operating license for 20 years -- from 2030 to 2050. Under NRC regulations, the original operating license for a nuclear power plant has a term of 40 years. A plant license may be renewed for up to an additional 20 years.

The NRC license renewal process generally takes 22 to 30 months following application submission. Aside from a thorough review and inspection, the renewal process also includes several public hearings.

About the plant

The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant is a pressurized water reactor that sits on a 900-acre site in the towns of Seabrook, Hampton, and Hampton Falls. It began operation in 1990 and generates approximately 1 million watts of electricity -- enough to power 900,000 homes daily. Forty-four percent of New Hampshire's electricity is generated by Seabrook, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Proponents of nuclear power say it is a clean energy source that helps reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil. Opponents believe the risks of radioactive contamination outweigh the benefits.

Safety concerns

Earthquakes

Nuclear power safety was thrust back into the media spotlight in 2011 with the earthquake/tsunami-induced meltdown of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Spent fuel rods caught fire and released radioactive material after the plant's cooling system failed.

According to NextEra Energy:

  • The Seabrook plant is designed to withstand the force of the earthquake that hit the Japanese plants, which is significantly higher than any recorded earthquake in New England history.
  • The plant is located two miles inland and elevated 20 feet above sea level to protect against flooding and extreme storm surges.

Waste storage

Spent fuel rods are stored in cooling pools at Seabrook and other nuclear plants across the country because the US lacks a central repository. Congress passed a law in 2002 designating Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a repository for high-level nuclear waste, but Energy Secretary Steven Chu decided to terminate the project this year.

Building integrity

The International Atomic Energy Agency's Operating Safety Review Team released its evaluation of Seabrook in April 2012. The investigation uncovered alkali-silica reaction (ASR) in several concrete structures. ASR is a slow chemical reaction that ultimately leads to micro-cracks in concrete and cement.

While NextEra is taking steps to mitigate the problem, the NRC estimates ASR has delayed Seabrook's re-licensing application several years while it waits for testing to be completed by the University of Texas.

Other issues

The NRC issued its Safety Evaluation Report of the Seabrook Station on June 8, 2012. According to the Safety Evaluation Report, the issues for the station to address are:

  • the aforementioned alkali-silica reaction, which is causing the degradation of concrete essential to the plant's structure 
  • issues with water leakage between the two containment shells surrounding the reactor 
  • plans to maintain the aging plant structure during the remainder of its license and into the extended period 
  • assessment and replacement of degrading bolts and welds on the structure 
  • the issue of borated water and its effects on the structure 
  • standards for pressure-temperature margins around use of fragile vessels in nuclear reaction
  • stress or damage that water intrusion may be causing 

During a June 30, 2014, inspection, NRC staff discovered two new "green" issues of low safety significance and one violation; a subsequent inspection of the plant by the NRC on October 16, 2014 identified three violations in need of correction.

Citizen opposition

  • Opponents of the Seabrook license extension filed federal action against the NRC in March 2012, accusing the commission of violating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it voted against allowing three groups (the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Beyond Nuclear) into a NEPA hearing to discuss energy alternatives to nuclear power. In January 2013, the Federal Appeals Court rejected the petition of the groups, barring them from participating in the process. 
  • ​Friends of the Coast/New England Coalition, which had been protesting the relicensing of Seabrook Station, reached a settlement with station owner NextEra in August of 2013. 

Progress of the license renewal

In July 2015, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released its determination that the station could operate for another 20 years beyond 2030 without negatively impacting the environment. This allows NextEra to move forward in the process to re-license the plant. 

The next step in the licensing process, a public hearing on plant safety, is currently on hold until Seabrook addresses the issue of the alkali-silica reaction in the plant's concrete.

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By LFDA Editor

Efficiency:

  • One uranium fuel pellet can deliver the power production equivalent of 1 ton of coal, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 149 gallons of oil and 5,000 pounds of wood.1

Low Electricity Cost:

  • Nuclear plants are the lowest-cost producer of baseload electricity. The average production cost of 2.14 cents per kilowatt-hour includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing fuel and paying for the management of used fuel.

Environmentally friendly:

  • Nuclear power plants emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal, fuel or gas plants.

Reliability:

  • Nuclear energy is not affected by weather conditions, volatile market fluctuations, or dependence on foreign suppliers.

1. Nuclear Energy Institute Fuel Chart

"Against" Position

By LFDA Editor

Safety:

  • Accidents and malfunctions at nuclear power plants can result in the release of large amounts of radiation. Human exposure to high levels of radiation can result in severe illness, cancer and death.

Nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attacks:

Waste disposal remains a serious challenge:

  • High level nuclear waste (plutonium, uranium and spent fuel rods) is highly radioactive and remains dangerous for thousands of years. There is approximately 70,000 metric tons of high level nuclear waste stored at reactor sites across the country. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 mandated the federal government establish a national repository, but it has yet to do so.

Cost/Construction:

  • The construction of a new nuclear power plant can take about 10 years and cost approximately $2 billion. It can also cost billions of dollars to decommission older plants.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Killed in the House

Reestablishes the High-Level Radioactive Waste Act and establishes a nuclear waste storage fee.

Killed in the House

Repeals the state's atomic energy policy, with various regulations in relation to nuclear power and a statement in favor of nuclear power.

Should the license for the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant be renewed?

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Issue Status

The application to renew Seabrook Station's license is currently on hold, while the plant puts together a plan to mitigate an alkali-silica reaction that could destabilize the concrete.

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