Nuke plant owner: Watchdog group’s claims ‘completely false’

SEABROOK — The Seabrook nuclear power plant’s owner refutes as “completely false” recent claims by C-10 Research and Education Foundation about research done on the alkali-silica reaction that affects the plant’s concrete.

C-10 board members filed comments with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 9, urging the federal agency to deny NextEra Energy Seabrook’s request to amend its application to extend its operating license from 2030 to 2050, according to C-10 Executive Director Natalie Hildt Treat.

Board members Diane Teed, Patricia Skibbee, Christopher Nord and Deborah Grinnell are concerned that assumptions in NextEra’s amendments are based on the results of lab tests only conducted on concrete samples at the University of Texas.

After reading C-10’s comments in a Daily News story March 17, NextEra Energy Seabrook spokesman Alan Griffith issued a statement on the claims.

“C-10’s assertion that actual concrete at Seabrook Station has not been tested for strength is completely false,” Griffith wrote. “We have extracted dozens of concrete samples from areas of the plant with ASR, and in all cases test results have shown that our plant structures have been and are performing safely.”

ASR is a slow chemical reaction that occurs between the alkaline cement and reactive silica found in some concrete when moisture is present. It forms a gel in the concrete that expands, causing microcracks that can affect concrete properties and cause deformation.

ASR is common in dams and bridges, but Seabrook Station is the only U.S. nuclear plant with the condition, although it has occurred at other plants.

Griffith said NextEra installed numerous monitoring points in plant structures that will provide data to ensure they continue to perform as designed.

“Our comprehensive ASR testing program was designed and run by some of the most competent, credentialed structural engineering experts in the country,” Griffith wrote. “Contrary to C-10 claims, ASR is a well-known, manageable condition that has not, and will not, affect our continued ability to operate the plant safely.”

In the press release issued by the Newburyport-based nuclear energy watchdog group March 10, Nord said that using only a University of Texas study doesn’t give the whole picture.

“Without testing the actual concrete, NextEra and the NRC are left with a series of inferences concerning the compressive and tensile strength of Seabrook’s structures — structures we count on to protect our families from many of the most toxic substances on Earth,” Nord said.

When asked about Griffith’s recent rebuttal, Treat said the organization doesn’t dispute that “some” on-site core sampling was conducted since the presence of ASR was discovered.

“Our board members stand by the assertion that testing in situations has been insufficient and that neither NextEra Energy nor the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission have been transparent about the results of the limited core testing that has been done at the plant,” Treat said.

In June 2010, NextEra applied with the NRC for a 20-year extension of the nuclear plant’s operating license, a process allowed by regulation. But the discovery in 2009 of ASR at the plant has held up the application review for years.

After ASR was discovered, the NRC has monitored the condition at the plant, according to NRC Region I spokesman Neil Sheehan. While assuring the public the plant is safe, NRC staff told NextEra the final decision on the license extension was on hold until the agency is convinced it can safely address the ASR as the plant ages.

NextEra embarked on a study at the University of Texas to learn the long-term impact of ASR on the plant’s structural integrity. Following the completion of the study, NextEra filed an amendment with the NRC last fall, detailing how it intends to manage ASR over the long term.

Angeljean Chiaramida can be reached at 978-961-3147, at achiaramida@newburyportnews.com, or follow her on Twitter @achiaramida1.

 

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