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December 20, 2013

NRC: No relicense until ASR addressed

SEABROOK — Political pressure to close Seabrook’s nuclear power plant continues to mount, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it will not make a decision until issues with degrading concrete are fully understood.

Eight members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation have written to the NRC requesting it make no decision on extending the license for NextEra Energy Seabrook’s nuclear power plant until the concrete problems at the structure is well understood and remedied if necessary.

The letter was signed by U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-Salem, both of Massachusetts U.S. Senators, Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Representatives James McGovern, Stephen Lynch, William Keating, Niki Tsongas and Joeseph Kennedy, III, all Democrats. It was mailed to Allison Macfarlane, chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulary Commission on Wednesday, the same day the NRC held an informational meeting in Hampton, N.H. to update the public on Seabrook Station’s alkali silica reaction concrete degradation issue.

On Wednesday, NRC Spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency had just received the letter and had to review it before providing a full response. But, he added, the NRC had dealt with this request from officials and others before.

“We’ve been engaged in a comprehensive review of the concrete degradation issues at Seabrook for several years,” Sheehan said. “And we’ve made clear that we will not issue a decision on the plant’s license renewal application unless and/or until NextEra develops a satisfactory long-term plan for addressing the condition. The focus of our meeting (Wednesday night was) on where the NRC and company evaluations currently stand.”

Alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, is a slow chemical reaction between the alkaline cement and reactive silica found in some aggregates used to make concrete that happens when moisture is present. Found for centuries commonly in concrete dams and bridges, ASR forms a gel that expands, causing micro-cracks — similar in size of a spider web filament — that affect concrete properties. Historically, ASR can take decades to show up in concrete structures.

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