NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 12, 2013

NRC to discuss concrete testing

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SEABROOK — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting next month to discuss the testing program related to the alkali-silica reaction concrete problem at the NextEra Energy Seabrook nuclear power plant. The meeting will be held on Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. at the Inn at Hampton in Hampton, N.H.

In June 2009, staff at Seabrook Station reported to the NRC the discovery of areas of alkali-silica reaction in some subterranean concrete walls at the power plant, such as the area of an electrical tunnel that holds wiring. 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.

The phenomenon can occur when moisture is present and is commonly found in dams and structures like highways and bridges. ASR forms a gel that expands, causing micro-cracks that can affect concrete properties. It can take five to 15 years to show up.

The NRC has continually assured the public that this problem does not impact the safety of Seabrook Station and that affected walls still meet federal standards for load-bearing capacity. Primarily in locations below ground, ASR-affected areas are in 2-foot-thick walls reinforced with a lattice of steel rebar that allows the walls to maintain their physical integrity currently, according to NRC reports.

The new finding, however, caused significant controversy among anti-nuclear advocates, as well as state and federal officials when NextEra filed an application with the NRC requesting a 20-year extension from 2030 to 2050 of Seabrook Station’s operating license.

Worries grew after a March 2011 magnitude-9 earthquake rocked the East Coast of Honshu, Japan. The quake, and the tsunami that followed, devastated the area. The resulting loss of electrical and backup power resulting from the combined disasters caused the meltdowns of three of the nuclear cores at the region’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex. The event caused many to raise concerns as to the seismic stability of U.S. power plants, leading the NRC to take related action within the nation’s nuclear industry.

For Seabrook Station, the NRC informed the plant that its application for license extension would not be finalized until the commission was satisfied with the current status of plant safety in relation to the ASR and had assurances that long-term safety plans could be met.

On May 16, 2012, a Confirmation Action Letter was released by the NRC that detailed 11 items agreed to by NextEra for evaluating the ASR-affected areas. Over time, NRC inspections of Seabrook Station closed out all of the commitments, indicating the satisfactory implementation of steps that show appropriate corrective actions are being carried out.

But the results of more testing ongoing at the the Ferguson Structural Engineering Laboratory at the University of Texas-Austin are needed regarding a long-term plan of the situation in regard to the company’s requested 20-year extension of the plant’s operating license, according to the NRC. The results of the testing program, expected sometime in 2014, will be used to provide the long-term resolution of the concrete degradation at Seabrook Station.

It is the long-term ASR testing program and its schedule that NRC officials will discuss with the public at the Oct. 9 event in Hampton. The public is invited to the informal open house at 5 p.m. and public meeting at 6. The public will have the opportunity to talk with officials both before and during the meeting.

Expected will be a number of NRC officials, including William Dean, regional administrator of Region I, James Trapp, deputy director, Division of Reactor Safety, and William Cook, senior reactor analyst and the leader of the team investigating the ASR at Seabrook Station. Dr. Oguzhan Bayrak, director at the Ferguson Structural Engineering Laboratory of the University of Texas/Austin, will also be on hand.

The Inn at Hampton Best Western Plus is located at 815 Lafayette Road, in Hampton, N.H.