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November 14. 2012 9:38PM

Seabrook licensing panel rejects 2 objections, citing deadline

SEABROOK - A three-judge Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel handling the license renewal application for the Seabrook nuclear power plant has rejected a late-filed contention regarding concrete degradation at the facility.

The contention was submitted by the Friends of the Coast and New England Coalition in August.

The panel ruled that Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff members have been raising and reviewing alkali-silica reaction, or ASR, issues since 2010 and that the groups had the necessary information to have filed a contention during the appropriate 30-day window of July 21 to Oct. 20, 2010.

Alkali-silica reaction is a chemical reaction in concrete that occurs over time in the presence of water and humidity and can cause micro-cracks that change the physical and structural properties of the concrete.

It was first discovered at the Seabrook plant in May 2010 and is the first time ASR has been identified at a power plant. It has been identified previously in transportation structures.

NextEra is seeking renewal of its operating license from the NRC, but issues related to ASR and its detection, prevention and response are contributing to a delay in the process.

During a July meeting, NRC staff members said that Next-?Era Energy, the owner and operator of Seabrook, has not yet demonstrated that it can adequately manage aging of the Seabrook concrete structures due to ASR for the period of extended operations.

Seabrook's current license expires in 2030, and NextEra is seeking a 20-year extension.

"Insofar as the contention as drafted represents a broad attack on the applicant's handling of the ASR issues in general, it bears emphasis that 'the staff has been raising and reviewing ASR issues at the Seabrook plant since 2010,'" the order reads.

It continues: "Intervenors cannot defend their failure to challenge the applicant's May 16, 2012, supplement any earlier on the ground that they did not know about ASR issues at Seabrook. ASR problems at Seabrook had been in the public record for some time by that point," the order reads.

Near the end of the order, the panel writes that the board does not decide whether some or all of the contention might otherwise be admissible because it is clearly untimely.

Should the intervenors have occasion to proffer any additional contentions, the board reminded them that the commission has cautioned the parties in the case that the hearing process is reserved for "genuine, material controversies between 'knowledgeable parties.'" "Although we do not adjudicate the merits at the contention admissibility stage, the commission has expressed its dissatisfaction in this case with contentions it found to be 'thinly supported' or 'poorly supported.'"

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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at gmacalaster@newstote.com.

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