NextEra Says Cutting Staff Won’t Impact Seabrook Nuclear Plant Safety

Print More

File photo

Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant


SEABROOK – Reducing the number of radiation safety technicians, facility coordinators, and mechanics at Seabrook Station won’t add any risk to the community in case of an emergency, according to NextEra.

But people living on the Seacoast are skeptical about the plans to cut staff at the nuclear power plant, and now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the proposed changes fall short of federal requirements.

Florida-based NextEra Energy, which owns Seabrook as well as three other nuclear plants in different states, has been trying since 2022 to get approval for staffing changes at its nuclear power plants. NextEra wants to regionalize some positions within the company, reducing the number of people at the stations. That means key staff responding to an emergency would be working remotely under the company’s proposal.

 Lindsay Robertson, NextEra’s senior communications specialist, said the changes won’t affect the way the company responds to emergencies.

“The top priority of NextEra Energy’s fleet common emergency plan is protection of public health and safety, which will not be compromised. The changes we have proposed do not alter the number of full-time employees at our company’s nuclear facilities. All employees at the company’s nuclear facilities play an emergency response role. The company will always ensure its facilities have appropriate staffing in everyday operations and in an emergency situation,” Robertson said via email.

Sarah Abramson, a Seacoast resident and executive director at the C-10 Research & Education Foundation, said the company is driven by profits over safety.

“Like a lot of the nuclear industry, they operate under a profit motive, and not necessarily what’s best for the community,” Abramson said.

NextEra wants to reduce key staff from 47 people to 34, even though the federal regulations require at least 37 staffers in roles like radiation safety technicians, mechanics, and supervisors. The reductions would mean NextEra would see an increase in response time for these key staffers from 60 minutes to 90 minutes in emergencies.

At Tuesday’s NRC meeting, commissioners pushed back on the proposal, citing its staff report that states there is no justification for the reduction. The NRC wants to see some more proof from NextEra that the staff cuts won’t harm safety.

“Currently NRC staff does not see sufficient justification for the discussed issues. NextEra should provide sufficient justification for the discussed issues to allow the NRC staff to continue its review of the application,” the NRC report states.

Abramson is encouraged by the NRC’s stance, especially in light of NextEra’s record at Seabrook. The company nearly caused a panic in 2022 when it issued a false emergency alarm at Seabrook.

“We had a real life scenario where they failed pretty big,” Abramson said.

Seabrook’s emergency sirens sounded at 10:54 a.m. on July 12, 2022, with a recorded message telling people to clear the beaches.

“Attention. Attention. There is a problem at Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. The beaches are closed. Leave the beach area at once and turn on your radio for more information,” the emergency messages said.

The alarms sounded for less than three minutes, but no one from the company contacted state officials for several minutes after the alarms sounded. At 11:06 a.m. New Hampshire State Police were able to contact NextEra staff to confirm the false alarm, according to a New Hampshire Department of Homeland Security report.

The NRC wants to see NextEra conduct a test of the emergency response system using its proposed staffing changes. Robertson did not answer’s questions about when and where that test will take place, and if and when the results will be made public.

“Based on our discussion with the NRC staff, we plan to provide further information that demonstrates how the proposed changes are designed to improve our emergency preparedness and response process,” Robertson said.

Abramson is glad the company will conduct the test, but said it does not make the staffing changes any safer.

“Practice is practice, but reality is reality,” she said.

Comments are closed.