SEABROOK — At the urging of federal lawmakers, those with questions or concerns regarding Seabrook's nuclear power plant and its attempt to secure a 20-year extension to its operating license will now have a chance to voice them at a public meeting this week.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency charged with overseeing the facility, has added a public forum to its scheduled annual meeting on the performance of the power plant set for Thursday night in Hampton, N.H.
The decision was hailed as a positive step by U.S. Reps. John Tierney and Edward Markey, who have worked closely with nuclear regulators as members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee respectively.
Earlier this month, the congressmen sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission calling for the agency to add a public session to its "open house" meeting format to better enable those living near and working at the facility to fully understand the nature of the safety issues at the power plant.
"Local residents and businesses will now have the opportunity to ask public questions directly of NRC technical staff, including about the recent report of concrete degradation of safety-related structures at Seabrook," Tierney and Markey said in a release.
Thursday's open house will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at One Liberty Lane Conference Center at 1 Liberty Lane East. During the open house, the public will get to talk one-on-one with NRC inspectors assigned to the plant and their supervisors about what they have encountered after devoting approximately 8,100 hours of inspection to the Seabrook facility.
The newly added public forum will follow the open house. NRC staff members will present information on the plant's performance and take questions from audience members.
The open house will come on the heels of a meeting today at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., between NRC staff and representatives from NextEra Energy Seabrook, LLC, the plant's owner and operator. Inspectors will meet with plant officials to discuss concrete degradation recently identified at the facility. In late March, the NRC concluded the plant was safe but suffered two lapses in its evaluation of its decaying concrete problem.
The report identified five areas where inspectors found concrete degradation in subterranean walls caused by water. The degradation is caused by a chemical reaction that has reduced the concrete's strength by 22 percent. The tunnel is one of two identical electrical conduits that contain wiring connecting the plant's controls to machinery. The document discusses the findings of six NRC inspectors who spent eight days during two separate visits last year to Seabrook Station.
At the conclusion of last year, as assessed by the NRC's Reactor Oversight Process, there were no performance indicators for the plant that were other than "Green" (very low risk) and no inspection findings that were "Greater than Green" (all findings were of very low safety significance). Therefore, for the rest of 2012, Seabrook will receive the very detailed inspection regime used by the NRC for plants that are operating well.
Word of the concrete degradation comes as NextEra Energy Seabrook has applied to have its operating license extended 20 years from 2030 to 2050. The application has raised local and national controversy for those opposed to the nuclear plant and prompted calls for the NRC to halt its review of the extension due to the concrete issues discovered at the plant.
Calls to representatives of C-10, a Newburyport-based watchdog group that monitors emissions from the plant, were not returned by press time. C-10 members are expected to be in attendance at today's meeting in Maryland.