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May 14. 2012 10:44PM

Seabrook plant foes take license fight to federal court

SEABROOK — Local environmental groups opposed to Seabrook Station's request to extend its nuclear power plant operating license by another 20 years are bringing their fight to federal court.

Beyond Nuclear, the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, and the New Hampshire chapter of the Sierra Club have appealed a March decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny them a public hearing to review other renewable energy alternatives — namely a proposal in Maine to build a 5-gigawatt wind farm in the Gulf of Maine.

The appeal comes as plant owner NextEra Energy seeks to extend to 2050 its license, which expires in 2030.

The request, filed in 2010, has drawn criticism from opponents and others who have questioned why the license needs to be renewed so early. The renewal process has been temporarily halted by issues surrounding concrete degradation in a tunnel under the plant.

“On behalf of Seacoast residents, we have the right to have a full hearing on this absurdly premature and ill-advised re-licensing proposal, so we are compelled to take NRC to federal court and hopefully make them bow to common sense,” Doug Bogen, executive director of Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, said in a statement.

Bogen added that by denying the groups the right to a hearing, the NRC is showing that “it's in a serious state of denial over the post-Fukushima realities of global and local efforts to pursue cleaner and safer electric power options.”

The environmental groups petitioned the NRC in 2010 for a public hearing, arguing that NextEra Energy had not thoroughly reviewed other energy alternatives as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

In February 2011, the NRC's Atomic Safety Licensing Board granted them a hearing, but NextEra appealed that order to a five-member commission, which upheld the appeal and ultimately denied the hearing.

Neil Sheehan, a public affairs officer for the NRC, said Monday that the agency has not yet seen the federal court appeal filed by the groups last week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.

“Obviously we will respond to it in full once we have a chance to review it,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said the NRC has a “pretty thorough process that looks at the issues and whether or not they should be included in an evidentiary hearing.”

Those whose contentions are dismissed by the NRC can bring their complaint to federal court as a last resort.

“Now the court will have to look at those issues and decide what the appropriate response is,” Sheehan said.


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