The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

CP&L Lawyer: Ice Age More Likely Than Nuclear Accident

Assistant City Editor

After nearly 10 hours of deliberations, Carolina Power & Light Co., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Orange County officials must wait for three judges to decide the fate of a possible on-site storage expansion at a local nuclear power plant.

At Thursday's hearing at the Jane S. McKimmon Center in Raleigh, CP&L officials presented a rebuttal to safety concerns voiced by Orange County lawyers. Orange County has asked for safety assessments by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board because county officials are worried that opening two more spent nuclear waste pools at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant will increase danger to the area. The board is expected to rule in the next two to five months.

CP&L spokesman Mike Hughes said ERIN Engineering, CP&L's specialists, provided a report presented by CP&L's attorney, John O'Neill. Hughes said ERIN is a top company in the U.S. for conducting nuclear risk assessments.

"What we asked (Thursday) is that the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board dismiss this from the bench because there is no merit to Orange County's case," he said. "The bottom line is what Mr. O'Neill argued is that the likelihood of an accident is so remote and so speculative that it does not require further investigation by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. It does not necessitate a full environmental impact statement."

Hughes said CP&L's presentation also exposed shortcomings in the findings of Dr. Gordon Thompson, a nuclear accident risk expert hired by the county. "Dr. Thompson indicated calculations that showed exposure levels for employees would be at ludicrously high levels," he said.

Hughes said O'Neill refuted the county's concerns regarding a primary scenario Orange County officials developed and presented. "Mr. O'Neill pointed out in the results of our analyses which took more than 2,000 hours to produce, we have a higher probability of returning to the ice age than the Orange County accident has of occurring," he said.

Following CP&L's presentation, the NRC made its own arguments, where Hughes said the NRC lawyers reiterated a number of points made by CP&L.

Roger Hannah, public affairs officer for the NRC, said there was an environmental impact statement done when the nuclear power plant was licensed. "The two additional spent fuel pools do not increase the environmental consequences of the plant's operation," he said.

But Hughes said the on-site expansion was just a short-term solution for a long-term problem. "This is an interim plan," he said. "Something in place until the government builds an open repository."

The U.S. Department of Energy's latest projection for the new facility at Yucca Mountain, Nev., is 2010, he said. "Obviously we need to activate (Shearon Harris') pools to continue storage of nuclear fuel rods for an area that grows at three times the national average."

The three-judge panel will determine whether an environmental impact statement is needed.

"What needs to happen is this process needs to be concluded so we can use these facilities," Hughes said.

Hughes said CP&L's goal was to use the third storage pool next year to alleviate overflowing waste, and then the fourth pool around 2016. By that time, the federal repository should be open.

He also said the facilities are already built and do not entail new building.

"Our plan is a safe and responsible one. It's a continuation of what we've been doing all along."

The City Editor can be reached


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