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November 07. 2013 8:05PM

NRC chairman checks Seabrook Station concrete degradation

SEABROOK — Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane was in town on Thursday to tour the Seabrook Power Plant and discuss the ongoing concrete degradation issue.

Macfarlane said it was her first visit to Seabrook, and she also spent some time viewing the nuclear waste storage on site.

Nuclear waste is a contentious issue, with Congress and the Administration unable to reach a decision on a federal repository — a permanent storage site. That means the plan for now is to leave spent fuel at each power plant across the country.

Seabrook uses both wet and dry storage systems, and Macfarlane said she found Seabrook’s operations to be sound with below-grade storage that is stable.

Macfarlane’s primary purpose was learning about a concrete degradation issue caused by an alkali-silica reaction. The issue was first identified at the power plant by NextEra Energy, the plant’s owner and operator, in 2009. The reaction is not uncommon in concrete, but it is the first time it has been found in a nuclear power plant in the United States and is caused by the type of aggregate used in making the concrete.

NextEra Energy continues to study the issue, and Macfarlane said she is pleased with their efforts so far.

“They are certainly putting a lot of resources into it and taking it very seriously, as they should. We are taking it very seriously, too and will be vigilant in making sure we are satisfied they understand the impact on this reactor,” Macfarlane said.

Macfarlane was sworn in as chairman of the NRC on July 2012 and reconfirmed for a five-year term in July 2013.

Her background is in nuclear waste issues, and she said she has always had an interest in the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Right now, the NRC is collecting public feedback on a draft waste confidence decision that they hope to have finalized next fall. The ultimate decision on nuclear waste storage will be up to Congress and the President.

“The long-term plan is up to Congress and the Administration to decide. Our job is to make sure whatever decision is carried out is done safely and securely,” Macfarlane said.

She said there arey few license inspections that are being held up by the lack of decision, and she does not expect there will be in the future.

NextEra Energy is pursuing a 20-year license renewal for Seabrook, which would allow it to operate through 2050.

gmacalaster@newstote.com


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