Today, Congressmen John Tierney (D-Salem) and Edward J. Markey (D-Malden) announced new legislation to provide greater certainty over the safety of the nation's aging nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Reactor Safety First Act (HR 6554), will prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from granting a renewal of a nuclear facility operating license to any licensee that applies more than ten years prior to the expiration of its current license. While these reactors were originally licensed to operate for 40 years, licensees of these facilities are allowed to apply to the NRC to request a 20-year extension of their licenses at any time, which has dangerous implications for those living near these plants.
"Along with the families and businesses who live only a few miles away from Seabrook nuclear facility, or nuclear power plants across the country, we are looking to take common sense and straightforward steps to ensure that these plants are safe and functioning properly," Congressman Tierney said. "It seems crazy that the NRC would even consider relicensing aging nuclear plants more than a decade before its license expires. As these facilities age, safety concerns inevitably arise. This bill will simply ensure that licensees, like NextEra, the operators of the Seabrook facility, are evaluated for renewal within a reasonable time frame and not 20 years before a license expires."
"Allowing the NRC to give a 60-year long clean bill of health to reactors that are in their nuclear adolescence, especially one with documented safety issues such as Seabrook, is like allowing a doctor to assure a twenty year-old smoker they will never get lung cancer," said Rep. Markey. "It makes no sense. This legislation will help ensure that the effects of aging on America's nuclear power plants are more well-known before granting any license extensions, so that nearby residents can have some confidence that the reactors' 'golden years' won't involve catastrophic aging-related safety failures."
The introduction of Reps. Tierney and Markey's legislation comes after the NRC announced additional inspections for the Seabrook Nuclear facility in Seabrook, New Hampshire. The NRC has deemed these inspections necessary to evaluate concrete degradation discovered in safety-related concrete structures at the plant. The additional inspections are a deviation from the NRC's normal oversight process. Additionally, last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the C-10 Research and Education Foundation called on the NRC to begin a complete structural integrity evaluation of Seabrook during its September 23 refueling outage to determine the status and extent of concrete degradation present in the plant's containment building.
"Congressman Markey and I welcome the NRC's additional inspections at the Seabrook nuclear plant. It is critical that those living near nuclear reactors can rely on structural soundness and safety of those facilities. The NRC has no more important job than ensuring the safety and security of these facilities," Congressman Tierney concluded.
Despite the discovery of degraded concrete, which could impact the future safety and soundness of the facility, and even though the current Seabrook operating license does not expire until 2030, the plant has applied for a 20-year extension to its current 40-year operating license. This would mean that Seabrook would be given the all-clear until 2050, even though it is already experiencing aging-related safety problems a mere 22 years into its operating license.