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NRC Grants Seabrook License; No White Flag For Plant Foes

March 2, 1990

SEABROOK, N.H. (AP) _ The Seabrook nuclear plant overcame two decades of protests, legal challenges, ballooning costs and the financial ruin of its chief investor to capture the ultimate prize: a license to operate.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 3-0 Thursday to grant the $6.5 billion reactor a full-power license. But the appeal process will hold up the license for at least two weeks, and Seabrook opponents pressed on.

About 125 anti-Seabrook demonstrators waved signs, chanted and blocked plant gates after the decision. More than 70 were arrested.

At the NRC meeting in Rockville, Md., utility executives hugged each other after the ruling, and maintenance workers at the 1,200-plus employee plant hoisted a sign reading, ″Startup ’90: We Have the Power.″

″It’s a milestone in the lives of our employees, more than just mortar and bricks,″ said Edward Brown, president of Seabrook operator New Hampshire Yankee.

Seabrook, perhaps the nation’s most hotly contested nuclear plant, became a symbol of the anti-nuclear movement, and its foes claimed a broader victory, contending that as a result of the long fight against Seabrook, no utility would risk the costs of trying to build and open another nuclear plant.

Conceived in 1968, it was proposed in 1972 as a twin-reactor plant costing less than $1 billion. Construction delays and cost increases forced the cancellation of one reactor in the mid-1980s and plunged lead owner Public Service Co. of New Hampshire into bankruptcy reorganization in 1988.

The plant was held up largely by concerns over whether the area could be evacuated in an emergency. The NRC ruling ratified recommendations by its staff and several lower-level boards that the plant is safe and that evacuation plans would work.

″I would be happy to live within two miles of this plant and I wouldn’t worry about it at all,″ said NRC Chairman Kenneth Carr.

Weeks before Thursday’s licensing, plant operators raised temperatures and pressure in the 1,150-megawatt reactor to ready it for nuclear fission.

″We’re going to stay at temperature and pressure and as soon as we get the license in hand, we’re ready to go,″ said Brown.

The decision gives opponents seven days to file an appeal; seven days after the filing the license becomes effective unless a judge issues a stay. If the appeal fails, ascension to full power could take two to three months.

Seabrook opponents remained undaunted, saying the final battles now move into an arena more likely to rule in their favor.

Massachusetts Attorney General James Shannon and two environmental groups planned to ask for a stay of the license next week in the federal appeals court in Washington.

″It’s correct to say there has never been a case where the court has overturned an NRC license, but it’s also correct to say that there has never been a license issued which has been so legally vulnerable,″ Shannon said.

Those vulnerabilities include what opponents consider the NRC’s violation of its own procedures in rulings on emergency evacuation plans for the densely populated New Hampshire and Massachusetts communities near the plant.

One of Seabrook’s most prominent opponents, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, refused to summit emergency plans in 1986 after declaring that safe evacuation was impossible. The NRC then accepted utility-drafted plans for Massachusetts.

In Boston on Thursday, Dukakis held George Bush, who defeated him in the 1988 presidential election, partially responsible for the NRC action. Bush’s support of the plant ″has made a significant difference here,″ he said.

Bush supported Seabrook while campaigning for New Hampshire’s 1988 presidential primary, with John Sununu, then New Hampshire’s governor and now White House chief of staff, leading his campaign. Sununu is a staunch Seabrook supporter.

Overall, there have been more than 3,200 arrests in anti-Seabrook protests, which peaked in the mid-1970s during construction and picked up again last summer as the plant drew closer to a full-power license.

Carr on Thursday defended the commission’s handling of the Seabrook license.

″We see nothing at present that persuades us that Seabrook cannot be operated safely,″ the NRC chairman said. ″This is one of the most closely scrutinized and safely built plants in the world.″

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