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The Daily Tar Heel

In the Wake

When the plans were unveiled, a group of residents joined together and formed Citizens Against Shearon Harris to protest the opening of the nuclear power plant.

Allen Spalt, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said he recalls a Chatham County Commissioners meeting where the vote to rezone, which would allow the plant's creation, went against CP&L.

"The commissioners came out; people were cheering the decision; it was remarkable," he said.

But a vote the following week reversed the decision, construction began in 1978 and Shearon Harris went into operation 11 years later.

"The Shearon Harris complex came out of a pro-nuclear mentality - it was planned at a time when concerns for safety were much less and the cost was much less," Spalt said.

Now the company wants to expand its nuclear waste storage capacity, and those who fought the plant's opening have once again joined the fray.

"Since we didn't want (the Shearon Harris plant) to begin with, we certainly don't want it to expand," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.

CP&L wants to open two more existing cooling pools at the site for storage of spent fuel, thus making it the largest storage for nuclear waste in the country.

"The capacity of radioactive material will be larger than anywhere else in the nation," she said. "It will be located in the fastest growing area in the state - it doesn't make sense."

And many area activists, including the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, aren't consoled by CP&L executives' assurances that the plans will pose no risk to the public.

"They believe it to be safe; fine, but they don't have to be right," Spalt said.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, N.C. WARN and several other local government officials have joined together to call for open safety hearings with the company.

"It's easy to be involved because the issue is so clear," Spalt said. "We'd very much like Orange County and N.C. WARN to be successful."

Kinnaird has been working with members of the local governments, coordinating writing campaigns and organizing a meeting between several area officials and Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., to gain his support in their fight.

In March, the junior senator pledged his assistance to the group in getting open evidentiary hearings between CP&L and nuclear consultants.

"He actually did help - we did move forward with our cause," Kinnaird said.

Some of the challengers to the expansion claim renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, need to be examined rather than turning to nuclear power.

Town Council member Joyce Brown, who has lived in the area since 1957, said nuclear power was not and is not the answer to the area's fuel needs.

"I think that nuclear power is not the right direction, and we should have been looking in other directions," she said. "We haven't done very well with energy efficiency or energy conservation or renewable energy sources.

"Alternatives need to be looked at that would not be as dangerous."

She said the risk involved with the plant's expansion in such a dense urban area far outweigh any benefits.

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"(Nuclear power) has serious implications for our area," Brown said. "I think that having that sort of facility in a growing urban area is dangerous."

Spalt said the kind of accident that could occur at the plant would have devastating effects.

"The big difference is that it has a risk, tiny or otherwise, of being catastrophic," he said. "We came close at Three Mile Island, it did happen at Chernobyl, rendering areas unlivable.

"It's a risk that should be taken under only extreme circumstances, and we're not there."

Elected officials and activist groups aren't the only ones fighting for hearings. At the encouragement of the UNC Student Environmental Action Coalition, Student Congress passed a resolution Wednesday night calling for safety hearings at the plant.

"We're just following the lead of local groups calling for open discussion of the issues," said SEAC co-campaign coordinator Margie Wakelin on Wednesday. "We believe the University has been silent on this issue."

The activists now have until Nov. 20 to file their safety concerns with the Atomic Safety Licensing Board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

But some aren't optimistic about the outcome.

"The NRC's process is so stacked against us," Spalt said.

"We've got to live with this plant for the rest of its life."

The City Editor can be reached


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