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Groups make case against Seabrook nuke plant relicensing

PORTSMOUTH – A day before they made legal arguments in a federal appeals court, three environmental groups laid out their case on why they deserve the opportunity to challenge the relicensing of the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant until 2050.

Representatives from Beyond Nuclear, the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League and the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club held a press conference Wednesday outlining their case against the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The groups appeared in court Thursday arguing that the commission has no right to overrule a decision to allow them to intervene.

The groups wanted to intervene to hold a hearing at which they would present evidence on why alternative energy like the wind project in Maine is a better option than nuclear power generated at Seabrook over future decades.

Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear said all three groups requested a public hearing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because they believe the application by NextEra Energy, the plant’s owner, to extend its licence did not “adequately assess” alternative energy as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

While the NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued an order granting the environmental groups a hearing, the five-member commission unanimously overruled it.

“The National Environmental Policy Act provides us a hearing to fairly review the alternatives to nuclear power,” said Gunter.

Gunter said NextEra in its application basically contended there were no viable alternative energy solutions coming down the pipeline.

“They dismissed all renewable energy alternatives in their application,” said Gunter, who noted there is clear evidence of viable energy alternatives like wind, solar or geothermal energy.

The groups also pointed to a current plan to generate 5 gigawatts (5000 megawatts) of power from interconnected deepwater wind energy farms floating 10 to 50 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine by 2030.

“These alteratives are more viable, cleaner and economical than the relicensing of Seabrook,” Gunter said.

But Al Griffith, spokesman for NextEra Energy at Seabrook Station, said if anyone knows about renewable energy it’s his company.

“Our company NextEra Energy is the largest generator of energy from wind and solar in all of North America,” said Griffith. “As such we are profoundly aware of the value and potential of renewable energy. But the assertion that we will not need Seabrook Station in the future because it can be totally replaced by renewable energy just simply defies reality.”

Griffith said a mix of energy sources including renewable and traditional fossil and nuclear energy will be required to meet the country’s energy needs in the future.

The NRC, he said, agreed with their position.

While the NRC is supposed to consider alternatives to nuclear power, the commission rejected the groups’ request to intervene, saying the project in Maine is still speculative.

“When considering energy alternatives, it is nearly always impossible to predict, decades in advance, the viability of technologies that are currently not operational and are many years from large-scale development,” according to the commission.

Doug Bogen, executive director of Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, said they just want an opportunity to be heard. He believes the appeals court will grant them that right.

“These judges have a much better understanding of the National Environmental Policy Act than the NRC commission,” Bogen said.

If the groups are granted a hearing, Gunter said the ultimate goal is to stall and hopefully stop the relicensing of the power plant. “It’s our hope to send Seabrook back to the drawing board to accurately look at the advantage of wind as an alternative to 20 more years of nuclear power on our Seacoast,” Gunter said.

NextEra Energy Seabrook LLC, the operator of Seabrook Station, is currently seeking a 20-year renewal of the license to continue to operate the plant. The current operating license expires March 15, 2030, and the extension would allow the operation of the nuclear plant through 2050.