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NRC Investigates Prior Shearon Harris Ruling

A March 1 NRC ruling allowed Carolina Power & Light Co. to use dormant waste storage pools at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, potentially making it home to the most nuclear waste in the nation.

The decision was supposed to be both the final green light for the power plant to open its storage containers and the end of appeals for Orange County regarding the plant's on-site expansion.

But state and local officials are still pressing the NRC to obtain more information from sources other than CP&L by having an evidentiary hearing.

The latest request, a letter signed by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, and Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, is asking the NRC to review its process for determining the plant's potential safety hazards.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners also has appealed to the NRC and filed a motion of intent with the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The NRC's Inspector General Office, an independent branch of the commission, has officials examining the legislators' concerns, Kinnaird said.

"The only thing this is doing is investigating whether the correct procedure was followed," she said. "We think it seems (the decision) went through kind of fast."

Insko said she thought the letter could help get the public more involved in the process. "This facility is only 20 miles from (UNC's) campus," she said. "There's a reason for people to be concerned."

While the NRC is not bound by the board's recommendation, both Insko and Kinnaird hope that the NRC will heed the findings of the investigators.

Neither members of the NRC nor investigators on the independent board could be reached for comment Sunday.

Keith Poston, spokesman for Progress Energy, the new owner of CP&L, said the plant has no plans to do anything differently in response to the letter or to the appeal filed this week by the commissioners asking the NRC for an evidentiary hearing. "We remain confident the NRC will confirm our plan is safe," he said.

Poston also said the second appeal would be Orange County's final one with the commission. From there, if the NRC confirms CP&L's findings as accurate, then Orange County officials will have to appeal to another level, he said.

Commissioner Barry Jacobs said the commissioners might take their concerns to the federal level if their appeal is dismissed by the NRC. "We're appealing the most recent ruling, and we've filed a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals," he said. Jacobs said the filing was simply a notice of intent, and not a full-blown appeal yet.

Poston said the plant plans to move into its third pool this summer, barring intervention by the NRC or a higher authority. He added that the fourth pool probably won't open for another 10 years.

Jacobs said the commissioners will still seek an evidentiary hearing at the federal level. "If we get to that, we'll be trying to get what we tried to get two years ago."

The City Editor can be reached at citydesk@unc.edu.

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