ASLB delays decision on “concrete cancer” impact

April 17, 2020, 10:47AMNuclear News

An Atomic Safety and Licensing Board notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other concerned parties that it will not render its decision on a challenge to a license amendment regarding concrete degradation at Seabrook until this summer. The decision on the challenge—which was brought by the C-10 Research and Education Foundation, an opponent of license renewal for the New Hampshire plant—had been expected on April 9.

Why it matters:The NRC approved NextEra’s license amendment request (LAR) and 20-year license renewal request for Seabrook in March 2019 (NN, Apr. 2019, p. 12). An ASLB decision in favor of C-10, however, could potentially require the NRC to impose changes on those licensing actions, despite their having been finalized.

What they said: “The board is working on its ruling but has concluded that an extension of time is required,” the ASLB stated in its March 25 notice. “Accordingly, the board now anticipates that it will issue its initial decision in this proceeding on or before Friday, July 10, 2020.” This is the second such extension, as the ASLB had originally expected to issue a decision within 90 days of its September 2019 hearing on the matter.

History: NextEra discovered concrete degradation at Seabrook a decade ago, during actions related to its license renewal application for the 1,248-MWe pressurized water reactor plant. The cause of the problem was later identified as alkali-silica reaction (ASR), a chemical reaction between water and concrete that results in the formation of a gel that can expand and cause “micro-cracks.” The phenomenon is also known as “concrete cancer.”

In 2016, NextEra submitted the LAR to alter Seabrook’s license to include appropriate management and analysis of ASR-affected components. More specifically, the request called for revising the plant’s updated final safety analysis report to include methods for analyzing seismic Category I structures with concrete affected by ASR. According to the LAR, approval by the NRC would allow NextEra “to proceed in an optimum, safe, and effective manner toward a long-term solution for ASR degradation at Seabrook Station. The proposed methodology changes are necessary to reconcile the design basis of the containment building and other seismic Category I structures that are affected by ASR.”

In April 2017, however, C-10 filed a request for a hearing on the LAR, and later that year, the ASLB issued a 100-page ruling that admitted five of the group’s contentions, combining them into one reformulated contention: “The large-scale test program, undertaken for NextEra at the Ferguson Structural Engineering Laboratory, has yielded data that are not representative of the progression of ASR at Seabrook. As a result, the proposed monitoring, acceptance criteria, and inspection intervals are not adequate.”

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