In May, the National Regulatory Commission rejected Orange County's arguments challenging their decision to allow Carolina Power & Light to expand the Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant. On June 1, Orange County appealed that decision.
"We don't feel the licensing board was justified in rejecting Orange County's request for a hearing," said Diane Curran, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has been hired by the county.
"For something this dangerous, there's no excuse for not looking closely at the dangers," Curran said.
But Keith Poston, spokesman for CP&L, said they have done nothing wrong. "We followed all established regulations," he said. "It's an industry-standard process." Shearon Harris has four waste storage pools, but has only been able to use two. In December 1998, they asked the NRC for permission to use all four of their storage pools, which would make it the single largest depository of spent fuel rods in the United States.
The primary request of Orange County is that the NRC examine the likelihood of a fire in one of the storage pools.
"The effects could be catastrophic," Curran said, comparing a potential disaster to the 1986 Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union.
In addition to filing the federal appeal, Orange County officials have called for an urgent meeting with U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., as a follow-up to an April 30 conference call with him. They hope Edwards will use his influence to arrange a Senate field hearing on CP&L's expansion plan. "It's now or never: Central North Carolina needs your help!" the letter pleaded.
A spokeswoman for Edwards confirmed that the senator had received the letter, but she said he hasn't come to any conclusions. He is considering different options outlined in the letter, she said.
Edwards was also asked to introduce legislation requiring environmental impact statements for high-density pool storage.