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The nation's energy chief is urging a federal appeals court to permit nuclear testing at the Seabrook, N.H., plant, warning that the power is desperately needed for a region that could be battered by brownouts this summer.

Energy Secretary James D. Watkins filed an affidavit with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here Monday supporting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's plan to issue a low-power operating license to Seabrook, the subject of intense battles between pro- and anti-nuclear forces for more than a decade."New England urgently needs the power that Seabrook is ready to provide, and there are no satisfactory near-term alternative sources of supply," said the retired Navy admiral in entering the latest battle in the 20-year war over Seabrook. "Any unnecessary delay in bringing this plant on-line would be, quite simply, bad energy policy and flatly inconsistent with the public interest."

Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Attorney General James Shannon and other Seabrook opponents are asking the court for an emergency order blocking the license until a full appeal can be heard.

Last week, the NRC said the license could be issued Thursday afternoon in the absence of a court order. It was not known when the court would rule.

Seabrook critics say the coastal area around the southern New Hampshire reactor cannot be evacuated quickly. They also charge that Public Service Company of New Hampshire, the plant's principal owner, is financially unsound to run the plant.