Delegation Seeks Public Forum Before NRC Rules On Seabrook Emergency Plan Changes

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C-10 photo

Seabrook Station nuclear power plant in Seabrook


The New Hampshire Congressional delegation has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold a public forum before making a decision on NextEra’s proposed changes to the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant’s 40-year-old emergency plan.

The NRC held two meetings in 2022 at its Maryland headquarters to discuss NextEra’s plan to submit a license amendment request to consolidate the site emergency plans of its four nuclear plants in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Florida into a single fleet-wide emergency plan. No members of the public attended.

The NRC was scheduled to issue a decision last month on the proposal, but has put it off for now.

NextEra’s proposal to consolidate emergency response and include a remote facility in Juno, Fla., has had no public meeting in New Hampshire or Massachusetts where there are a total of 23 towns within its 10-mile radius.

But it has raised concern from the New Hampshire Congressional delegation led by U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all Democrats, and the C-10 Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that monitors and advocates for Seabrook’s safety.

C-10 also conducts real-time field monitoring of radiological emissions, wind speed, and wind direction in the communities surrounding Seabrook, according to its website, and it contracts with the state of Massachusetts to provide the service.

C-10 spokesman Sarah Abramson said their major concern with the proposal is that it includes 49 different potential “reductions in effectiveness” compared to the current emergency plan, “which means 49 ways that the public is being put at risk should Seabrook Station experience an emergency.

“The fact that this plant is the only one in the country plagued with a specific structural degradation dubbed ‘concrete cancer’ means that the structures are weaker than they were designed to be which we think should call for more emergency response resources, or at the very least not a reduction in resources,” Abramson said.

She referred to what the NRC and NextEra confirmed in 2010 is degradation of concrete at Seabrook caused by alkali silica reaction, or ASR. 

According to C-10, NextEra wants to implement a “Common Emergency Plan,” which would impact seven reactors at four nuclear power plants in New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Florida. Four of the seven reactors are over 50 years old and operating beyond their originally designed lifespan. The reactor at Seabrook Station is operating within concrete structures that are severely degraded by alkali-silica reaction, according to C-10.

Abramson said the NRC pressed NextEra to provide evidence to justify the emergency plan changes and prove the proposal provides adequate assurance of public safety. “In many cases NextEra justifies the reduction or elimination of emergency response roles by saying that remote support would be available if needed. This could mean 20 miles away in Manchester, or 1,200 miles away in Juno Beach, Fla.,” Abramson said.

NextEra spokesman Bill Orlove said: “This characterization is inaccurate and misleading. These proposed changes do not reduce the number of full-time employees at Seabrook Station or at any of our other nuclear facilities. All employees at the company’s nuclear facilities play an emergency response role and no emergency roles are being moved from any of our facilities.”

There are plans for another emergency response center in Florida, Orlove said, however, it would serve as a complement to support the emergency operation facilities located outside the 10-mile emergency planning zones of the nuclear facilities, which would include Portsmouth.

Besides Shaheen, the delegation letter dated Dec. 5, 2023, was signed by U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, and Congressmen Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, both Democrats. It wasn’t previously made public.

The letter asked that the NRC “ensure that changes to the proposed emergency plan at Seabrook “enhance rather than reduce public safety, and that you provide appropriate transparency and opportunity for public engagement.”

It described the NextEra proposal as providing consistent emergency protocols throughout several of NextEra’s Energy facilities across the country.

 “We recognize the need for coordinated planning and synchronization among facilities and appreciate efforts to focus on emergency preparedness. However, we have serious questions about the details in the proposed plan related to staffing locally in Seabrook, New Hampshire.”

The delegation asked several questions of the NRC.

“How do the changes in NextEra Energy’s proposed license amendment for common emergency planning improve safety in Seabrook?”

The letter expressed concern that “NextEra intends to increase the number of technical experts that can respond remotely in an emergency in place of on-the-ground experts.”

The New Hampshire delegation asked if NextEra or the NRC has held any public forums.

“If not, we urge you to include an opportunity for the public to learn about the proposed plans and provide comments before NRC decides on the licensing amendment request.

“It is imperative that New Hampshire residents have ample time to review, understand and provide input on decisions that impact their neighborhoods and lives,” the letter said.

NextEra’s Orlove said there were public meetings in February and May of 2022 at NRC’s Maryland  headquarters. NRC records show there were no members of the public in attendance.

He said NextEra has done what is necessary in the process and that doesn’t include holding local hearings.

“Our Portsmouth emergency operation facility will continue to be the focal point for any emergency response at Seabrook Station. Other trained personnel will respond, whether it be in-person or remotely, should it be necessary to provide additional support,” Orlove said. “The proposed changes allow us the flexibility to assign the right expertise to emergency response efforts, wherever they are located.”

C-10’s Abramson said: “What (the plan) does propose, is that many emergency response roles tasked to on-site employees be reduced or eliminated entirely, as well as the creation of a new central NextEra Command Center be built in Florida and serve as remote ‘support’ to all four of NextEra’s plants.”

“In many cases NextEra justifies the reduction or elimination of emergency response roles by saying that remote support would be available if needed. This could mean 20 miles away in Manchester, NH or 1,200 miles away in Juno Beach, Fla.,” she said.

Abramson agreed with the New Hampshire Congressional delegation that a public forum should be held before the NRC issues a decision on NextEra’s license amendment request.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the NRC said: “We will carefully consider the congressional delegation’s request for a public meeting on the proposed Seabrook emergency planning changes. No decision has been made at this point on whether to conduct such a session.

“With respect to the alkalai silica reaction, or concrete degradation, issues at Seabrook, the NRC staff’s reviews of the condition have found that there are no immediate safety concerns due, in part, to existing safety margins, the localized nature of the ASR, the slow-moving nature of ASR, and ongoing monitoring. The NRC continues to conduct inspections at Seabrook to assess NextEra’s management of the effects of ASR in plant structures. Our most recent inspections have determined Seabrook structures remain capable of performing their safety functions.”

NextEra confirmed the presence of ASR degradation of concrete in below-grade walls of several Category 1 structures in August 2010, according to the NRC. Seabrook is the first plant in the U.S. nuclear fleet to exhibit ASR in concrete structures on site. In response, the NRC issued Information Notice (IN) 2011-20, “Concrete Degradation by Alkali Silica Reaction,” on November 18, 2011, to provide the industry with information related to the ASR identified at Seabrook.

 U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., sent a separate letter to the NRC asking for a careful evaluation of NextEra’s safety proposal to consolidate emergency response staff and move some to a building in Juno Beach, Fla.

The Markey/Warren letter Dec. 21 stressed safety of people living near the plant.

“The safety of communities living in the shadow of nuclear power plants, like those in Massachusetts near Seabrook Station, should not be a lesser priority than company convenience. While emergency response facilities may be off-site up to 25 miles without NRC approval, NextEra’s proposal would shift emergency response facilities—which are currently onsite at Seabrook Station and other plants—to a location approximately 1,200 miles away from Seabrook.

“Should severe weather, electrical issues, or other infrastructure damage occur, remote response capabilities are likely to be either severely diminished or fully offline—preventing the rapid mitigation of any emergency. The importance of emergency response proximity and timeliness cannot be overstated, especially with Seabrook Station’s existing concrete degradation issues and a higher-than-average rate of fire-safety violations,” the Markey/Warren letter said.

The 10-mile radius of Seabrook Station includes 17 New Hampshire towns and six Massachusetts towns as Seabrook is on the border with the Bay State.

They include Seabrook, Portsmouth, Greenland, Rye, North Hampton, South Hampton, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Stratham, Exeter, Newfields, Brentwood, Kingston, Newton, and New Castle.

In Massachusetts, they include Salisbury, Newburyport, Newbury, West Newbury, Amesbury, and Merrimac.

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