August 21, 2012
New Hampshire

Advocacy groups file suit over relicensing

Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER | 21 August 2012

SEABROOK – Claiming a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission caused them “procedural injury,” three anti-nuclear advocacy groups filed suit against the agency in federal court last week.

Maryland-based Beyond Nuclear, Exeter’s Seacoast Anti-Pollution League and the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club brought suit in the the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston on Thursday. According to the press release issued by the groups, they lawsuit challenges the NRC’s reversal of an earlier ruling by the commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel that would have allowed the groups to a hearing challenging NextEra Energy Seabrook’s nuclear power plant’s application to extend its operating license 20 years, from 2030 to 2050.

The groups are challenging Seabrook Station’s re-licensing application based on the future potential of off-shore, deep water wind generation in the Gulf of Maine, which they consider an energy alternative to the nuclear energy Seabrook Station provides.

The groups claim the overturning of the previous ASLB decision by the commissioners in March not only causes procedural injury, but also violates the Atomic Energy Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The suit was brought in hopes the court will order the NRC to allow the anti-nuclear groups back into the hearing process based on the wind generation/alternative energy bases.

Oral arguments on the case are not expected to be heard until early 2013, according to the press release.

According to the NRC’s Region 1 Spokesman Neil Sheehan, the commission has not yet reviewed the suit and had no comment on its claim. Sheehan said the agency would respond to any and all information requested by the court by the time required.

Sheehan said in general when the NRC reviews nuclear power plant license extension applications, such as the one filed by NextEra Energy Seabrook, alternative energy is considered by the NRC.

The three anti-nuclear energy advocacy groups that brought the suit had requested intervenor status, filing a contention claiming that Seabrook Station should not be granted the extension because there could be enough wind energy available in the future that would alleviate the need for the energy Seabrook Station generates.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute’s July 2012 fact sheet, the nuclear power plant in Seabrook provides nearly 42 percent of the state’s energy. Natural Gas provides 33 percent, coal-fired generators offer 11 percent, with 7.8 percent coming from hydro plants, and .04 from oil. Another 6.3 percent comes from other renewable energy sources.

Based on information from the Institute of Energy Research, renewable sources in New Hampshire includes wood and wood derived fuel, primarily, with a small portion allocated to wind generated energy. The nuclear power plant in Seabrook is the largest single nuclear reactor in New England, according to the IER.

NextEra Energy Seabrook produces 1,244 million watts of electricity to the grid, enough to power 1.4 million families and businesses.

Seabrook Station made application to the NRC to have its license expended in May of 2010, 20 years after it began operation. According to NRC rules, nuclear power plants are allowed to make application for license extensions after 20 years of operation.

More than half of the 104 nuclear power plants in the nation have applied for and received approval to have their operating licenses extended.

The NRC is in the process of reviewing NextEra’s license extension application. The commission is not expected to make a decision on the application at least until sometime in 2014, as research continues into an alkali-silica reaction concrete degradation problem found in some areas of the foundation of Seabrook Station. While saying ASR is not a threat to the plant’s operation or to the public safety due to the two-foot thickness of its steel-reinforced walls, the NRC also said it would not act definitively on the application until all the information is in concerning ASR.

Recently the NRC said that although the licensing review process will continue on any plant involved with the process currently, all final decisions on extensions or licenses for new reactors will be placed on hold until it resolves the issue of the on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel rods at all of the nation’s nuclear power plants, in accordance with an order from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D. C.

In conjunction with that decision, last week the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board panel issued an order stating that a prospective contention based on spent fuel storage will also be placed on hold until the issue concerning the safety of on-site spent fuel is resolved.

Beyond Nuclear, the Friends of the Coast and the New England Coalition signed onto that petition, seeking to challenge the Seabrook license renewal application based on the court’s decision concerning future environmental safety of on-site storage of spent nuclear.

URL to article: