Twenty-two miles outside Raleigh, a battle rages about more nuclear waste coming into the area, pitting Carolina Power & Light Co. against environmental activists and government officials.
CP&L, the main power provider for Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, wants to expand its Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant in New Hill to store more nuclear waste on-site.
But many people oppose the expansion, believing it will increase the risk of a nuclear accident, which could threaten residents living in a 50-mile radius of the plant.
Opponents of this expansion plan do not believe CP&L has considered the safety of the public or let residents express their concerns about this issue.
But CP&L officials contend they have had a fair review process and have given the people an open forum to voice their reservations.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will make the decision of whether the plant's expansion will go forward, has set Nov. 20 as the final date for all sides to file their findings on the probability of an accident from the expansion.
Until then, the battle continues.
No Other Choice?
CP&L wants to send the extra nuclear waste from its plants in North and South Carolina to Shearon Harris because the two other plants are running out of room to store their own waste.
"The Harris plant is a high-performing plant," said Jeanne Bonds, the corporate communications manager for CP&L. "It's in the top tier of nuclear plants with an excellent safety record.
The plant began operating in 1986 and was originally built with four temporary storage pools to keep the radioactive waste. Today, only two of the pools are in use because just one generator, instead of the planned four, was built.
CP&L now wants to open these unused pools to store the waste shipped in by the other CP&L plants, which would make it the largest nuclear waste repository in the nation.
The spent fuel - fuel that already has been used and is no longer able to generate power - is stored in these deep pools of water to prevent exposure to air, which could lead to a nuclear accident.
The Shearon Harris plant has enough room to store this waste for 40 years, but eventually the waste will need to be stored elsewhere. Officials at the plant are counting on the federal government to open a repository in Nevada to store this waste in the future. The Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was originally slated to open in 1997, but the date was pushed back to 2010 pending further safety tests.
Jim Warren, director of the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, said he thinks the Nevada site is not an ideal place to store waste and doubts the site will open by the target date.
"It's going to be much later."
Getting a Word In
Many say, despite the loud and persistent complaints from Warren and others, CP&L has paid little more than lip service to opponents of the expansion.
Both N.C. WARN and Orange County want CP&L to listen to their experts and to have an open public meeting about this expansion because they claim CP&L officials have failed to adequately address their fears.
But CP&L officials said they have made this process as open as possible.
"We feel that (request) has been satisfied," Bonds said. "The process is meant to be open and inclusive, and we've followed that process."
The UNC Student Environmental Action Coalition, along with N.C. WARN, wants the people who live here to have a say in the actions of area corporations. "The people should have a voice," said Nora Wilson, a senior in SEAC who has been involved with the CP&L expansion issue for almost a year.
"We shouldn't be shut out."
Safety at All Costs
The main safety concern raised by N.C. WARN and SEAC is a major nuclear accident resulting from the proposed expansion. Until the Nevada repository opens, nuclear plants across the country have to store all their waste on-site, possibly endangering local people, according to N.C. WARN.
Many county officials are afraid the expansion heightens the risk to residents in the area because it increases the amount of radioactive material that could get into the air if an accident were to occur at the plant.
But CP&L officials do not feel that storing this extra waste will cause a problem for the residents. "We didn't really expect any opposition because we have been safely storing fuel since 1998," Bonds said. "It's merely a continuation of how we've been storing fuel."
But Warren said the new storage plans differ from what CP&L has done in the past. "It's not a continuation of what they've been doing," he said. "They keep packing (the rods where nuclear waste is stored) more closely, which increases the risk for a nuclear reaction to occur in the pool. It's an avoidable risk, so why increase the risk here?"
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