NRC to meet on concrete flaw at New Hampshire Seabrook reactor

Sept 27 Fri Sep 27, 2013 9:34am EDT

Sept 27 (Reuters) - Efforts by NextEra Energy Inc to address degradation of concrete at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire will be the subject of a public meeting conducted by staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff on Oct. 9.

The NRC has said the plant continues to operate safely and the problem with concrete has not caused structural problems, in part because the concrete walls are reinforced with steel rods known as rebar.

The 1,246-megawatt Seabrook reactor is about 40 miles (60 km) north of Boston.

NextEra identified degradation of below-grade concrete structures at Seabrook in June 2009 and confirmed the problem was from alkali silica reaction, or ASR, in August 2010.

ASR is a chemical reaction that can cause expansion and cracking in concrete, potentially resulting in structural problems.

In May 2012, the NRC issued a so-called confirmatory action letter to NextEra requiring the company to undertake a variety of actions in response to the condition.

In August 2013, the NRC said NextEra had met all of the commitments contained in the confirmatory action letter.

The NRC said, however, it is continuing to monitor the condition of the concrete structures and a company concrete-degradation testing program being conducted at the University of Texas - Austin.

NextEra will use the results of that testing program to determine the long-term resolution of the concrete issues.

The NRC has said it will not make a final decision on the plant's license renewal application until the company has a plan to deal with the concrete issues.

Seabrook entered service in 1990. Even though it is one of the newest reactors in the nation, NextEra in June 2010 applied to the NRC to renew the plant's original 40-year license for another 20 years. The original license does not expire until 2030.

The NRC has completed several non-contentious license renewals at other plants in less than two years, but NRC staff in the Seabrook case still have several reports to complete before making a recommendation to the commission on the application.

NextEra has told the NRC it does not expect to get the concrete degradation results from the University of Texas until 2014, so the NRC could not make a decision on the license renewal until at least that time.

That 2014 time frame, however, fits well with the NRC's self-imposed moratorium in August 2012 on issuing new licenses until the agency reviews the environmental impact of storing spent nuclear fuel at temporary sites, such as nuclear power plants, due in part to a lack of a permanent waste storage facility. That decision followed a federal court ruling in June 2012.

The NRC currently expects to complete its waste confidence rulemaking in September 2014.

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