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Legislation takes aim at overlapping nuclear plant licensing renewals

Seabrook Station

Citing the safety of aging nuclear power plants, two congressmen introduced legislation on Sept. 26 that would prevent overlapping operating license renewals for such facilities.

The legislation would prevent nuclear reactor owners from applying for 20-year license renewal years before their original 40-year operations license expires.

The sponsors of the bill, Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), said it would provide greater certainty over the safety of the nation’s aging nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Reactor Safety First Act (HR 6554), they said, would prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from granting a renewal of a nuclear facility operating license to any licensee that applies more than 10 years prior to the expiration of its current license.

Markey, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and ranking member on the Natural Resources Committee, has long been a critic of the nuclear power industry in the U.S. He introduced legislation in March that would impose a moratorium on all new nuclear reactor licenses or license extensions until new safety requirements are in place. In June he had said he was looking to block relicensing of the Seabrook Nuclear facility in Seabrook, NH.

The September bill was introduced as the NRC announced additional inspections for the Seabrook facility. The NRC is inspecting concrete degradation in safety-related concrete structures at the plant.

Nuclear reactors are originally licensed to operate for 40 years, but the congressmen said 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, said the congressmen.

“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,” Tierney said.  “As these facilities age, safety concerns inevitably arise.”

Allowing the NRC to license plants for up to 60 years, said Markey, “makes no sense.” The bill, said Markey, will help ensure that the effects of aging on nuclear power plants are more well-known before granting any license extensions, so that nearby residents can have some confidence in the facilities.

Seabrook’s current operating license does not expire until 2030, according to Markey, and the plant has applied for a 20-year extension to its current 40-year operating license. 


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