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The Daily Tar Heel

U.S. Appeal Challenges NRC Case

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.

An EIS would examine the proposed action's environmental implications, offer alternative solutions and weigh the alternatives in costs and benefits.

"It's a technical analysis, but it covers certain areas that help the agency make an environmentally safe decision," Curran said.

Orange County officials have also filed a stay motion, which would prevent CP&L from putting waste in the two contested pools - pools C and D - until the court looks at the case.

But Poston said CP&L doesn't expect any problems in opening storage pool C as planned in July.

"We believe it is not necessary or likely that the court would step in," he said. Poston also said CP&L did not anticipate any problems with the county's appeal. "There has been no new information presented by Orange County in their appeal and we don't expect any changes in what has been a thoughtful process," he said. But Poston said he was not surprised by Orange County's actions.

"It was fully expected. Orange County made it clear that they would exhaust all legal avenues," he said.

"But there are very few legal options left."

Matt Viser can be reached at viser@email.unc.edu.

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