Issues at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant
Seabrook, like all nuclear plants in the US, holds a 40-year operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. When that license expires, the plant must complete the full relicensing process, including safety and security checks. While Seabrook’s license isn’t set to expire until 2030, the plant owners submitted an application in 2010 to request a 20-year license renewal from the NRC, effectively extending their operating license to the year 2050, further into the future than any existing nuclear plant in the United States.
We believe this application is premature considering numerous and unresolved safety issues at the Seabrook site (nuclear waste mismanagement, evacuation issues, structural deficiencies, etc) and the current potential for clean renewables to supplant Seabrook’s power generation at less cost and much less environmental impact.
The key stumbling block to relicensing at this point is the troubling issue of concrete degradation (known as the Alkali Silica Reaction – ASR) in the plant’s structures. This is an extremely serious safety issue. Addressing this kind of damage and determining how to repair foundations at a live nuclear reactor site has never been attempted at a nuclear plant before. Because of this, the NRC has suspended the relicensing process until further research has been carried out—research and analysis which the NRC estimates will take until August, 2018.
License extensions don’t guarantee that a nuclear power plant will last. While most plants older than Seabrook have already received license renewals, several announced their closing shortly after obtaining their 20-year license extension. Most recently announced closures, including Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim in our region and Fort Calhoun and Palisades in the Midwest, have come just a few years after their license renewals. Not one nuclear plant in the world has made it to 50 years of operation, let alone the 60 years that NRC claims they are capable of.
Learn more about the true lifespan of nuclear power plants and why they close, or view our closure chart for a downloadable list of plant closings.
Since its startup in 1990, the Seabrook nuclear power plant has been responsible for both routine and accidental releases of radioactive fission by-products to our air and water, as have all nuclear power plants. Most notably, leakage of radioactive hydrogen, or tritium, was first identified and reported in 1999, when the plant was in operation for less than a decade. Despite mitigation efforts, tritium-contaminated water continues to leak out and contaminate groundwater and coastal waters, though officials claim at “safe” levels.
Remarkably, despite widespread leakage problems, the NRC still allows voluntary monitoring and reporting of these emissions and the EPA hasn’t seen fit to strengthen drinking water standards for tritium, despite decades of research into its multiple health impacts. And unlike our neighbors to the south, the state of New Hampshire continues to reject setting up any independent, off-site, real-time monitoring of these radioactive emissions to protect the public health and safety. Instead, the state is relying on a for-profit utility to notify the public when an incident threatening to health and safety occurs.
Local residents and scientists are currently raising funds to purchase and install a real-time radiation monitoring station to monitor radiation from Seabrook Station.
Visit Seacoast Radiation Monitoring to learn more.
GROUNDWATER INFILTRATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE DEGRADATION
Groundwater has been seeping into subsurface floors, foundation structures, and control system conduits at Seabrook for decades. This is particularly troublesome since the electrical cables running through these conduits are not waterproof. Water damage can lead to electrical failures, potentially knocking out the crucial cooling systems that keep the reactors from melting down.
Water also appears to be the culprit in the ongoing crumbling of Seabrook’s concrete walls and structures. The concrete infrastructure of Seabrook is essential for safety, and this insidious degradation (known as the Alkali-Silica Reaction) is a serious issue. It’s also the main reason why Seabrook has been unable to obtain their license renewal. Water issues at Seabrook will only worsen in coming decades as the water table rises and becomes more saline due to accelerated sea level rise.
INADEQUATE EVACUATION PLANNING
The current evacuation zone for a disaster at Seabrook is only 10 miles. The failure of public protection downwind of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in otherwise safety-conscious Japan should underscore the woeful inadequacy of a 10-mile evacuation planning zone at Seabrook and other US nuclear plants. The ongoing absurdity of potentially trying to evacuate Hampton Beach on a hot summer day, not to mention a rapidly growing Seacoast region, using volunteer-driven school buses necessitates a re-examination of this critical response to an increasingly possible accident at Seabrook. SAPL and other groups are calling at the very least for an expansion of the emergency planning zone around Seabrook and all other US nuclear plants.
CLIMATE IMPACT AND CARBON FOOTPRINT
Contrary to popular conception, nuclear power generation is NOT carbon-free, especially when looked at in terms of total life-cycle emissions. Recent estimates have nuclear power creating 7 times more carbon emissions than wind power per megawatt-hour.
Meanwhile, climate disruption also has a huge impact on the safety of nuclear power. Sea level rise and increasingly violent storm surges threaten to cause further damage to plant foundations, to knock out critical offsite power, and to affect plant access in coming decades. This is an issue that has yet to be adequately considered or addressed. The Seabrook plant is at risk of being inundated by storm surges as soon as 2030.