Officials at Carolina Power & Light Co. say that while there are some minor drawbacks to their plans to expand their nuclear waste facility, they believe it is the best solution to their situation.
But environmental activists and local officials disagree. They argue that CP&L is unnecessarily putting people in harm's way.
CP&L wants to expand its existing nuclear storage facility at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, but opponents of the plan think this will dramatically increase the risk of a nuclear disaster.
Members of N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, a grassroots organization that opposes the expansion, are worried by increased traffic of nuclear fuel across the state and the high concentration of dangerous waste in a densely populated area.
But CP&L officials say these concerns are unwarranted. They feel their plant has been a model of safety and responsiveness to the public. They admit there are some risks, but point to their past safety record and strict procedures in answer to concerns about danger.
"The Same Safe Process"
From CP&L's standpoint, the expansion has no negative implications. The Shearon Harris waste facility, located in New Hill, consists of four wet-storage pools, only two of which are in use. CP&L wants to begin filling the remaining two pools. The plumbing and equipment are already in place. The expansion of Shearon Harris would involve no new construction or employees.
CP&L would use the already trained employees and would need no new training sessions, said Edward Wills, manager of environmental and radiation control for the nuclear power plant.
CP&L spokesman Mike Hughes said the expansion is only an extension of the existing license the plant has had since 1988. "We are continuing the same safe process," Hughes said. "The reason we are pursuing this is because it is a continuation of the same safe technology."
While CP&L officials concede that the plant will hold a high level of radioactive waste, they said there are security measures in place to ensure safety.
Shearon Harris has a high level of security already established to monitor entrances to the plant and make sure no unauthorized people enter, said Jeanne Bonds, CP&L corporate communications manager. "The security officers are not ex-mall cops," Bonds said. "(The heavily armed guards) appear scary, but it should have the opposite effect. If more people came out and learned about it, it would erase some fear."
CP&L officials consider low costs as another benefit of the wet-pool expansion. Wills said there has been no rate increase for CP&L customers since 1988, and rates have actually decreased because of the plant's efficiency.
From the perspective of CP&L, the only drawback of the expansion is the reason why it is necessary.
Bonds said the company needs to store waste at the Shearon Harris plant because the federal government has not completed an alternative site. A federal depository in Nevada will not open until 2010.
Facilities all over the nation need to provide storage. Hughes said. By storing the waste at Shearon Harris, CP&L is only doing what every utility wants to do. "We are in an enviable position," Hughes said. "Others in the nuclear power industry have exhausted the storage facilities they have already built."
Wills said the two pools will be ready to use in the next few months and will be more than sufficient for CP&L's needs. "We are not doing something different, rather, we are doing what every facility wants to do. We have two unused pools. . It is safe technology and we are choosing the first option."
"The Stakes Are Too High"
But Laura Wimbish-Vanderbeck, a board member of N.C. WARN, said she is not convinced that CP&L was doing the right thing.
"CP&L could use safer, less expensive methods," she said. "They just need to come to the table and start answering our questions."
Vanderbeck said she sympathizes with CP&L over the Nevada conflict, but she does not want the stockpile in her backyard. "This proposal is to increase the storage of spent fuel to the largest concentration of spent fuel in the United States," Vanderbeck said. "It would be 29 times more powerful than Chernobyl."
But Hughes said a comparison with Chernobyl is inappropriate and unfair.
"Throughout the last two years, N.C. WARN has thrown out gratuitous references to Chernobyl and Hiroshima," he said. "Those two words . incite alarm and have absolutely nothing to do with what we are proposing."
Vanderbeck said the expansion is a threat to public health and questions the company's safety record. "With this proposal, CP&L will contend that they've done this safely for 13 years," Vanderbeck said. "But they have had a lot of near-miss accidents. I question them. . They have been lucky for 13 years."
In addition to safety at the plant itself, N.C. WARN board members are worried about an increase in traffic transporting fuel to the nuclear facility if it is expanded.
"They want to truck all of this fuel in, and that is a danger," Vanderbeck said.
But Wills said the 10 to 12 dry shipments Shearon Harris receives from other plants are safely transported by rail car. "There are five cars (in the train), and they give one hour updates as they travel through nonpopulated areas," Wills said. "Only a few people know when it is going to happen, including the State Highway Patrol."
CP&L officials also said they make sure the surrounding population knows what to do in case of an emergency.
Their emergency-planning zone and emergency-planning mailings reach the 25,000 people living in a 10-mile radius.
But Vanderbeck is concerned about those residents who do not live within that 10-mile limit. She said concerned people in a 50-mile radius are being ignored by CP&L. "They will not let the public hear it and won't debate it," she said. "Because they won't answer our questions, we are more scared than we were two years ago. We aren't saying they can't do it. We just want them to answer questions."
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