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Area Seeks Edwards' NRC Clout

Eight Triangle officials, including four representing the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, faxed a letter to Edwards on Thursday requesting a meeting to discuss a plan of action.

Officials also asked that Edwards use his political connections in Washington to convince the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that an evidentiary hearing about the recently approved expansion at Carolina Power & Light Co.'s Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant is necessary.

On March 1, the NRC upheld the ruling of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that allowed the opening of two more existing nuclear waste repository pools at the Wake County plant. Orange County officials are appealing this decision and said they hope Edwards' support will lend credence to their efforts.

Kevin Foy, Joyce Brown and Bill Strom, all members of the Chapel Hill Town Council, signed the letter as did Carrboro Alderman Allen Spalt and state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.

Officials said the battle to persuade the NRC to require an evidentiary hearing on the matter would require powerful backing, but given Edwards' history of fighting large corporations as a successful trial lawyer, he would be a strong ally.

"A common sense test really needs to be applied here, especially with an issue as controversial and impacting as this, and with Edwards we can apply that test," Spalt said.

Mike Briggs, press secretary for Edwards, said the senator received the letter, and although he is very busy with other issues, he is planning to meet with the group. "The senator wants to meet with the officials from the (Triangle) area, but (Congress) is in session right now, so it looks like a conference call will be the way to go," Briggs said.

Briggs would not speculate about what action Edwards would decide to take on the matter. "The senator has already petitioned the NRC for a full hearing; we'll just have to wait and see what comes out of the meeting with the Triangle officials and go from there."

Some officials said Edwards could be the area's last chance for a hearing. They also said they are fighting an uphill battle because of the financial strength of CP&L.

"Senator Edwards is our only hope to counterbalance this stonewalling by a Fortune 500 company," Foy said. "This is an enormous company that can spend millions to thwart the efforts of residents with legitimate concerns without even blinking an eye."

CP&L spokesman Keith Poston said he understands area residents and officials have concerns, but he said he feels CP&L has done everything necessary to answer those concerns. Therefore, he said he does not expect Edwards' involvement to have an effect on Shearon Harris' expansion. "This has been a two-year process in which all of the procedures established by the NRC have been followed," he said. "We are confident that the full NRC will confirm what the (Atomic Safety and Licensing Board) and NRC staff members have already concluded, so we do not expect any delay."

But Kinnaird said having Edwards as an advocate in Congress increases the chances for a hearing. "Bureaucracy moves very slowly, and would go on without really ever listening to us, but Edwards and the power of his office raises a flag to say, 'Hey, stop! We've got something to say about this.'"

The City Editor can be reached

at citydesk@unc.edu.

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