Seabrook appeal slams NRC for wind power ruling

At issue is the scope of wind power development off the coast of Maine over the next 40 years

By reversing its own scientific panel's ruling requiring a hearing and a "hard look" at wind power alternatives in the long-term relicensing of the Seabrook nuclear power plant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is ignoring reality, according to an appeal filed by three anti-nuclear groups in the federal court of appeals in Boston.

At issue is the scope of wind power development off the coast of Maine over the next 40 years. The reason for the long time frame is that the nuclear power plant's owner, NextEra Corp., is seeking to extend the plant's license to 2050, nearly two decades before the current one expires.

By that time, contend groups opposing the plant — Beyond Nuclear, Seacoast Anti-Pollution League and the New Hampshire Chapter of the Sierra Club — there will be so much wind power available that the nuclear plant won't be needed.

In February, The NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board — while not ruling that wind power was viable — stated that "the Beyond Nuclear petitioners have demonstrated some possibility that wind power might be a reasonable alternative as early as 2015." The board added that the possibility of a significant amount of wind-generated power leaves NextEra's claims for an extended operational period for Seabrook "somewhat attenuated."

But the NRC disagreed, saying that even though the agency is supposed to consider alternatives when making its decision, it simply can't see into the future.

"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.

In its appeal, the groups insisted that they were not speculating — that there are numerous sizable wind power proposals off the coast of Maine.

"There is a high probability of construction of baseload quantities of interconnected power generation farms in the Gulf years before the 2030 commencement of Seabrook's license renewal period," according to the appeal filed on Aug. 16. "The NRC, the very embodiment of technical, scientific and commercial promotion of nuclear power generation, possesses no scientific expertise in offshore wind, and will certainly not acquire any so long as the Commission excludes consideration of wind alternatives."

The appeal "aims to retain that right and to hold NRC accountable for their increasingly irrational and dysfunctional decision-making process in light of recent events here and around the world," said Doug Bogen, executive director of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League.

The NRC is supposed to consider alternatives to nuclear power, said NRC spokesperson Neil Sheehan, but he declined comment on the specifics of the court appeal.

He also added that the commission usually backs its safety panel, but it was not "unprecedented" to overrule it.

Categories: Energy and Environment, News