SEABROOK, the controversial nuclear power plant in New Hampshire that is 13 years late coming on line, just cleared another hurdle. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved evacuation plans for neighboring Massachusetts towns. The plant's owners hope the NRC will grant Seabrook an operating license next year.
The plant's opponents, who say adequate evacuation plans can't be developed, plan to appeal the licensing board's decision.
``The NRC has run reckless with the law by approving evacuation plans that its own appeals board acknowledges are inaccurate,'' says Joe Kriesberg, director of Massachusetts Citizens for Safe Energy.
The appeals board, which still has other aspects of the plan before it, found flaws in the New Hampshire evacuation plan at a hearing last week. But, says NRC spokesman Karl Abraham, ``We just have to say that based on all testimony furnished during the hearing, the board felt the NRC requirement for emergency planning for Seabook had been met.''
Massachusetts Attorney General James Shannon, a longtime plant opponent, said that he would appeal the NRC ruling in federal court if other attempts to reverse the ruling fail. But the NRC has indicated that a license could be granted before the appeals have run their course.
Seabrook lies 40 miles north of Boston; 140,000 people live within its 10-mile emergency evacuation radius. In the summer, as many as 70,000 people crowd nearby beaches. Opponents have said that evacuation during an emergency, especially during the summer, is impossible.
Because an adequate evacuation plan is a prerequisite for licensing a plant, Seabrook's foes have used the evacuation issue to block the license. Until three years ago states developed those plans. But when Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis's staff concluded that safe evacuation was impossible and refused to draft a plan, the NRC changed its regulations to allow utilities to set up their own.
What was intended as a $900 million twin-unit plant turned out to be a $6.3 billion, one-unit facility. The enormous cost - a result of post-Three Mile Island regulatory changes, public opposition, and problems raising money - forced the Public Service Company of New Hampshire into bankruptcy in January 1988.