Last week's ruling gave Carolina Power & Light Co. the go-ahead to increase its waste storage potential at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant and denies any further hearings regarding the expansion.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, a branch of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ruled that CP&L now can utilize two more waste storage pools at Shearon Harris, located in Wake County. The decision also denies the Orange County Board of Commissioners the right to further hearings regarding the plant's expansion.
Commissioner Alice Gordon said she is not sure if the county commissioners will appeal the ASLB's decision.
"We will most likely discuss (the decision) in one of the next couple board meetings and decide on our next step before the end of March," Gordon said. "We certainly haven't missed any deadlines for an appeal."
According to a press release from the ASLB, the Orange County Commissioners did not make a strong enough case against the plant's expansion.
"The licensing board finds that (Orange County Commissioners) failed to identify any evidence of any disputed factual or legal matters that warrant an additional evidentiary proceeding," the release states.
Commissioner Barry Jacobs said the ASLB's failure to listen to what he called "very legitimate concerns" is upsetting.
"It's sad that we have a system that remains closed to, and actually seems antagonistic toward, the health and safety concerns of an entire community," Jacobs said.
The commissioners said that although Shearon Harris is located in southwestern Wake County, Orange County residents have cause to be concerned for their health and safety.
Gordon said according to the nuclear consultant hired by the board, an accident at the plant would affect a 50-mile radius, which includes all of Chapel Hill.
"In the worst-case scenario, a total meltdown could affect the entire state of North Carolina," Gordon said.
But CP&L spokesman Mike Hughes said he doesn't understand why there is even a debate about the expansion.
"The two pools that are being protested were built back when the plant was built, and they are housed in the same area as the already active waste pools, so nothing will actually have changed about the plant's storage procedures," Hughes said.
But the commissioners said they felt that they and their nuclear consultant presented enough evidence to the ASLB and the NRC to at least get a hearing.
"It's strange that we never even got to the point where we were able to get a hearing in which to dispute CP&L's claims," Gordon said.
Jacobs said he thought the ruling was tainted because he said he feels the NRC and CP&L were the only contributors to the legislation.
"This decision is a good reminder of why special interests shouldn't be able to help write legislation that regulates them."
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