To the editor:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is considering a 20-year license extension, which would allow the Seabrook nuclear power plant to continue to operate until 2050 – 60 years after it began operating in 1990.
By contrast, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant was decommissioned in 2014 after operating for 42 years, and the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth operated for 47 years until it closed in 2019. Unlike the Seabrook plant, neither of these plants had a problem with alkali silica reaction (ASR).
The extension of this license to 60 years is illogical and irresponsible.
In 2010, NRC officials reported they were without a technical basis or regulatory basis for assessing a concrete degradation condition (ASR) that had been discovered in the Seabrook power plant.
The reaction causes swelling inside concrete structures that spreads to the outer surface and is evidenced by exterior cracking. ASR had been detected in 131 areas of this nuclear facility by the time the NRC issued a report in May 2011 that stated, “Concrete surrounding an electric control tunnel at the nuclear power plant has lost almost 22 percent of its strength and is showing signs of an alkali silica reaction (ASR) because of groundwater infiltration ... .”
Groundwater infiltration is not the culprit here. The culprits were in the cement mix that was poured when the plant was built.
Since 1940, when Thomas Stanton published the first study on ASR, it has been found in many concrete structures around the world, including bridges, dams and parking garages.
The NRC and the Seabrook plant owners need to stop playing dumb about ASR. When limited to a small section of concrete, it may be possible to repair it by removal and replacement. But with giant sections of concrete showing signs of ASR, this may be impossible.
An extension of the plant’s license to 2050 makes no sense. The alkali silica reaction will continue to cause swelling and cracking, eventually reducing the tensile strength, load-bearing capacity, fatigue life and shear capacity of the concrete at the Seabrook plant.
Before a license extension decision is made, at a minimum, the Seabrook plant owners should be required by the NRC to have an onsite appraisal of the current condition and estimated remaining life of its nuclear facility. Almost nine years passed since the 2011 NRC report.
There are many experienced U.S. firms that would welcome the opportunity to consult on repairs that might be needed to extend the useful lives of ASR-impacted structures. But no public statement indicates that any of these firms have been tapped to look at the Seabrook plant. Let’s hope this winter that the group C-10 will be able to nudge the NRC to act in a responsible manner, to govern wisely, and avert a possible tragedy in our hometowns.