The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday February 5th

Edwards, Price Question NRC Ruling in Letter

The NRC ruling found "no significant \hazards" in the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant plan for additional storage.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Rep. David Price, D-N.C., sent a letter to the NRC on Friday, questioning the Dec. 21 ruling. The decision came while the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a division of the NRC, is still debating whether additional storage at CP&L's Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant poses any environmental safety risks.

"The 'no significant hazards' finding by the NRC staff appears to turn on the very issues that are still pending before the (ASLB)," the letter states. "We understand that NRC regulations permit it to approve a license amendment prior to the conclusion of the proceedings before the ASLB. We think it would be helpful, however, for the NRC to more fully explain the rationale behind these regulations."

The NRC decided to allow CP&L to open two existing nuclear waste storage pools at the power plant, located in Wake County.

Price press secretary Thomas Bates said the impetus for the letter stemmed from residents' concerns about the NRC's ruling. "We've been working all along with our constituency to ensure facilitation of public participation," Bates said.

The proposal to open two existing cooling pools, which would make the plant the largest storage facility in the country for high-level nuclear waste, is causing concern among Orange County officials. The county is worried that a nuclear accident could potentially affect a 50-mile radius, which includes Chapel Hill. The county has appealed the NRC's decision and the full commission will review the case.

Orange County Commissioner Steve Halkiotis said the NRC's ruling was based on pressures from CP&L. "I'm very disappointed but not surprised because of the NRC's past track record and connection to the industry," he said in a news release.

But CP&L spokesman Mike Hughes said the decision was made after a full scientific inquiry.

"This is hardly a rubber stamp -- a rubber stamp doesn't take two years or as many scientists and documentation this process involved," he said. "Just because (the NRC) reached a decision that's unpopular, that doesn't mean it should be discarded."

Jim Warren, director of the grassroots environmental group N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, contends the ruling could compromise the decision of the ASLB.

"The problem is that it could prejudice the ASLB and the whole process," he said. "The decision comes right on the heels of safety concerns presented by (Orange County nuclear consultant) Gordon Thompson.

Hughes said the third existing storage pool would be fully operational by the middle of the year and the company has no plans to use the fourth pool until 2016.

"The NRC staff concluded our plan would have no environmental impact," he said. "We're confident the ASLB will confirm what the NRC has found -- our plan is safe and reliable."

The City Editor can be reached

at citydesk@unc.edu.

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