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Foes, Supporters Agree: Licensing Decision Took Far too Long With PM-Seabrook, Bjt

March 1, 1990

SEABROOK, N.H. (AP) _ In the battle over licensing of the Seabrook nuclear plant, supporters and foes agree on one thing at least: The decision was put off too long.

″I never thought it would take this long,″ said former Gov. Meldrim Thomson, a Seabrook proponent who served from 1973 to 1979. ″If any human being could dream up anything worse, they would have to work at it.″

On the other side, anti-Seabrook protester Dianne Dunfey also criticized delays in the ruling by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which today licensed the nuclear power plant to begin producing commercial electricity.

Barring further court maneuvering, the NRC decision sets the stage for the 1,150-megawatt reactor to begin operating at full power within three months. The board’s decision was by a 3-0 vote and ratified recommendation s by the commission’s staff and several lower-level boards.

The NRC is ″one of the most disreputable of all government agencies,″ said Dunfey, a Seabrook schoolteacher, who was released from jail last week after serving a five days for refusing to pay a fine over a Seabrook-related sit-in.

″It has ignored public input,″ she said. ″It either discarded or amended all of its own regulations any time Seabrook couldn’t meet one.″

Asked why the licensing procedure took as long as it did, NRC spokesman John Kopeck in Washington, said, ″There was a legal process that it had to go through - there were a lot of steps that had to be taken.″

When the plant was proposed in 1968 by Public Service Company of New Hampshire, the cost was estimated at $978 million. That has swelled to $6.5 billion. The utility filed for bankruptcy protection in 1988, in part because of the costs of the plant.

Environmentalists have been battling the utility and NRC over Seabrook since 1976, when the Clamshell Alliance staged its first display of civil disobedience shortly before the Aug. 5 groundbreaking. Thousands have since been arrested.

The final step in the licensing process for the plant 40 miles north of Boston has done little to calm the emotions that made Seabrook a symbol of the anti-nuclear movement.

The main sticking point to licensing has been federally mandated evacuation plans for communities within 10 miles of the plant, which is near popular Hampton Beach. Opponents maintain the area is too densely populated to evacuate quickly.

″I think it’s a disgrace,″ said Russ Arscott, a Seabrook resident for 61 years. ″There’s no way to evacuate the area. I just hope the pipes all hold.″

Ray Colbert moved to Hampton Beach last year knowing little about the plant, which can be seen from his porch. He said he plans to move to Florida in May, partly because of the reactor.

″I might stay if that thing wasn’t so close,″ he said. But ″I’ve got a 5-month-old daughter. I want to get her the hell out of here before they fire that thing up.″

Others look forward to the day the plant finally produces electricity.

″We need it,″ said Thelma Grinnell, a resident of nearby Salisbury, Mass., for the past 25 years. ″We need something other than fossil fuels. We’re destroying the environment.″

The evacuation zone has a population of 148,000, which swells to a summertime peak of 247,000. The plant’s operator, New Hampshire Yankee, estimates it could take up to 10 hours to move people out of the zone in an emergency.

On a summer day, according to Deputy Massachusetts Attorney General Stephen Jonas, there are more people within three miles of the Seabrook reactor than any other reactor in the country.

″Anybody who’s been in a traffic jam (near the plant) during the summer knows that in a panic situation, evacuation would be impossible,″ said Sen. Gordon Humphrey, R-N.H.

Seabrook proponents, including former Gov. John Sununu, now White House chief of staff, say the plans will work.

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