The Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled March 1 to allow Carolina Power & Light Co.'s Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant to open its existing storage pools. The plant plans to open the first pool by this summer and the second one within the next 10 years.
The latest appeal, a letter signed by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange and Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, asked the NRC to review the process used to approve the plant's expansion. Kinnaird and Insko's letter, submitted Jan. 5, has yet to receive a reply from the commission.
Orange County Commissioners also have filed an appeal against the NRC's decision to deny an evidentiary hearing concerning the permit approval. If the NRC dismisses the local officials' concerns, then the Orange County has plans to take their quest to the federal level.
But state and local leaders might not have the backing of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. and Rep. David Price, D-N.C.
Edwards and Price co-signed a letter to the NRC earlier this year asking the NRC to delay expansion until the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board finished considering the issue.
But a member of Edwards' staff said neither Edwards nor Price will take any further action until their original letter generates a response from the NRC. A date has not been specified as to when the NRC will give a response.
Commissioner Alice Gordon said additional support from the federal level would be welcome. "We would be very happy to get some support from either the state or federal level," she said. "We've gotten farther than many expected."
But Commissioner Barry Jacobs said federal support might not be enough. "The NRC seems impervious to the opinions of publicly elected officials," he said.
Jacobs compared the situation to a deck of cards, saying the odds were stacked in CP&L's favor. "Can we still find a winning hand in a stacked deck?" he asked.
Washington-based attorney Diane Curran, who is representing Orange County, said the commissioners have a strong case but warned that the situation's outcome was "hard to judge."
Curran also said the county will have the option to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. But the commissioners will not consider doing so until the NRC makes its decision.
Investigator George Mulley, of the NRC's Office of the Inspector General, a board independent from the commission, said the OIG did not investigate the technical merits of a case. "We don't do technical reviews, we follow process only," Mulley said."We investigate the process used, file a report and let the chairman of the (NRC) know what we found, but it's his decision to make," Mulley said.
CP&L spokesman Keith Poston said he does not expect any changes in the commission's existing stance. "We've gone the extra mile to provide them with the extra info. the NRC has requested," he said.
Poston also said CP&L remains confident that it will be able to continue with its expansion plans. "We think it's more than two years of investigation and public input and we don't expect any reversal."
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