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    Tuesday, June 18, 2024

    Waterford data center opponents urge NRC to step in, block proposal

    An aerial view of Millstone Power Station in Waterford on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
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    Waterford ― Residents battling the plan to locate a data center on Millstone Power Station land called Thursday night for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to block the proposal.

    After picketing outside Town Hall prior to a public meeting hosted by NRC officials, more than a dozen residents put down their placards to attend the nearly two-hour session, with several raising concerns about the proposed data center during a question-and-answer period.

    “Please help us. Please get involved,” Ronald Elkin, one of the residents, said.

    Matthew Young, the NRC official who moderated the meeting ― a joint session with the Connecticut Nuclear Energy Advisory Council to discuss the NRC’s assessment of Millstone’s 2023 safety performance ― said the NRC has received little information about the proposal and would likely have little or nothing to say about it unless it had some direct impact on Millstone.

    He said the data center would not be located within a designated “protected area” surrounding the plant.

    Young did note that data centers have been proposed near nuclear power plants in other locations, including one recently built adjacent to the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, a nuclear plant in northeastern Pennsylvania. Like Millstone, that facility is located in the NRC’s Region 1, whose headquarters are in King of Prussia, Pa.

    The 300,000-square-foot Susquehanna data center will be powered by the adjacent plant.

    Similarly, the data center developer NE Edge has proposed for Waterford would be powered by electricity that would come directly from Millstone. The proposal, calling for a pair of two-story structures, would occupy 55 of the 526 acres Millstone’s owner, Dominion Energy, controls.

    Dominion’s initial request to modify the Millstone plant’s boundaries to accommodate the data center was rejected earlier this year by the Connecticut Siting Council.

    Elkin, addressing the NRC officials and members of the advisory council, offered a dire warning about dangers he said the presence of a data center near Millstone could pose. He suggested the center could be a target for “cyber terrorists,” and questioned whether Millstone staff would have the wherewithal and training to handle a fire that could spread to the plant from the data center.

    “The ‘What ifs?’ scare me,” Elkin said.

    Another resident, John Valliere, who said he lives near Millstone, called the data center proposal “ill thought out” and “a recipe for disaster.”

    During a 90-minute presentation that preceded the public’s input, Young and the other NRC officials on hand, including three resident inspectors assigned to Millstone and a senior project engineer, reported that Millstone’s two operating nuclear reactors, Units 2 and 3, operated safely in 2023 and have continued to do so this year.

    They are licensed through 2035 and 2045, respectively.

    Justin Fuller, a senior resident inspector, said more than 9,000 hours of inspections and “related activities” at Millstone yielded 19 “findings,” or incidents last year, all of which warranted a “green” classification, meaning they were of “very low” safety significance. Findings of increasingly more serious safety significance would be classified “white,” “yellow” and “red.”

    Fuller said the NRC has yet to make a final determination regarding the significance of an apparent security violation that occurred Nov. 8. Given the status of the review, the NRC cannot yet provide details of the incident, he said.

    Bill Sheehan, an advisory council member from Waterford, said Dominion seemed to be doing a good job with “the big stuff” at Millstone but had lost focus on lesser things, leading to the need to replace aging pipes and valves.

    Fuller acknowledged Millstone 2 is increasingly facing “age-related degradation.” He said inspectors are visiting every accessible part of the plant once a week.

    “We’re spending a lot of time in the field,” he said.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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