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Crack forces shutdown of nuclear reactor at Shearon Harris

Posted May 16, 2013
Updated May 17, 2013

— A quarter-inch crack in a reactor sensor at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwest Wake County has forced Duke Energy to take the plant offline, officials said Thursday.

No radioactive material leaked from the plant, and public health and safety is not in danger, spokeswoman Kim Crawford said.

"There are no indications that there was any leakage," Crawford said. "We made the conservative decision to take the unit offline and make the repair."

Crawford said she couldn't say how long the reactor would be out of commission, but she said the utility has plenty of capacity and wouldn't need to purchase electricity from outside sources to meet demand.

"We're not anticipating any issues," she said. "While our plant is offline, we'll continue to serve our customers."

Shearon Harris provides power to about 550,000 customers, and industry sources said not operating the reactor could cost Duke about $1 million a day.

According to information Duke filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ultrasonic tests of the reactor were taken a year ago when Shearon Harris was taken offline for refueling. A secondary review of those tests this week revealed the "primary water stress corrosion cracking" on a temperature sensor near where cooling rods attach to the reactor head.

"Initial evaluation indicates that the flaw is not through wall, and there is no evidence of leakage based on inspections performed on the top of the reactor vessel head during the spring 2012 refueling outage," the NRC event report states.

Shearon Harris NRC, critics question delay in addressing reactor crack

Without repairs, a small crack could widen and allow water that keeps the reactor cool to escape, putting the plant at risk of a meltdown and possible release of radiation.

The NRC plans to send someone to Shearon Harris to review the situation with Duke officials.

Such cracking is common for aging nuclear plants, according to the NRC, but agency officials and others question why Duke and Progress Energy, which operated Shearon Harris before being acquired by Duke last July, waited a year before addressing the issue.

"To have a crack in a reactor vessel head that went undetected for at least a year, that's very troubling," said Jim Warren, executive director of utility watchdog NC WARN, a frequent critic of Duke and Progress.

"My concern is the industry hasn't solved this particular problem. We've known about this (issue) for well over 10 years," Warren said.

He attributed the delay in repairing the Shearon Harris crack to "some sort of breakdown in procedures."

"What they're going to find when they're able to get in there and look more closely will be of great interest to the public," he said.

The NRC will hold an annual public meeting and question-and-answer session Monday to discuss the NRC review and take questions from the public. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, at 300 West Ballentine St.

Duke was forced to mothball a nuclear plant in Florida in February, more than three years after Progress Energy, which Duke acquired last July, took it offline because of cracks.

The Crystal River plant was closed in the fall of 2009 after a crack was found in the outer layer of the containment building's concrete wall. While trying to repair the problem in 2011, crews cracked other portions of the wall, and officials said repairing the damage might have cost more than $3 billion.

147 Comments

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU May 20, 12:31 p.m.

    @timex, Obama wants to increase this electric car tax break to $10,000, but even at that rate, it’s still *only* $4.2 billion over 10 years. Meanwhile, big oil and gas get several billion every year...~20 times this electric car incentive.

    It’s been said that we vote with our dollars. So, why don’t we stop giving tax breaks to the fossil fuel companies that are having their biggest profit years ever? ...and give that break to solar and wind development businesses (and government agencies) for Research and Development?

    Could you imagine if the U.S. government invested in this like they did to send a man on the moon? It won’t be easy or fast, but won’t it be great when we can stop sending billions to the countries that we hate?...when we stop destroying our own planet?...when we have so much “free” power that we don’t know what to do with it?

    Don’t forget, the human population doubles every 50 years...and finite resources are not infinitely available.

  • oleguy May 20, 11:12 a.m.

    ever been night fishing on Harris lake,, the water glows,, and you can use the fish as lanterns around your campsite,,,Musketters look like fire flies,,,

  • oleguy May 20, 11:09 a.m.

    That crack was there when they built it,,

  • Ex-Republican May 17, 7:48 p.m.

    I guess it's time to build cheaper and more reliable coal fired plants!

  • CaptD May 17, 4:18 p.m.

    Ya'll should ask to have an outside observer accompany the NRC when they do an inspection. That way the public will really find out what is happening and why this was not "found" beforehand! The real issue is that if there was a "beyond basis accident" like a main steam line break, the sudden loss of pressure could have caused the crack to propogate (grow larger) which could have cause the part to fail completely and allow the venting of highly radioactive core coolant! That in itself would be bad enough but if that leakage could have also caused other damage which then would have compounded the total damage to the reactor!

    A good analogy would be getting a nail in you tire, which is usually no big deal, unless it later causes the tire to fail while you are driving on a wet curvy road at night which results in you running off the road and into a canyon, then it could be fatal!

    Sugget that you get in touch with NC WARN and see what you can do to help them!

  • stevek2 May 17, 3:50 p.m.

    Well I guess the ugly truth has come to a head on why Duke wants to raise customers rates. And just think, Duke secured a $5 million loan for Obama's 2012 Campaign which is reported that will not be payed off. I Think Dukes Executives with shares should take a cut in pay and dividends!

  • rushbot May 17, 2:58 p.m.

    I heard on the radio news this morning that the NRC is gonna get them for taking so long to find the crack post post last year's shutdown...

  • ziva May 17, 12:54 p.m.

    I don't think the crack was caused by all of the stoners that built the plant. However, like someone else said, if you have heard the stories of what went on while Sharon Harris was being built, you wonder regularly why something worse than this has not happened....

  • mep May 17, 11:27 a.m.

    Create a plan for your families. It may be needed.

    No matter what the southern gal spokesperson for the Nuke Stack says!
    NoTimeForStupidity

    No doubt... no matter where you live there are potential dangers.... some more than others. For example; If you live in New Orleans, below sea level behind govt built dikes.... you might want to have a plan to get out in case of a flood or hurricane. Live at the beach... same thing. Live near a fertilizer factory... or even a nuclear power plant. It only takes a little prep time to be ready for the what ifs.

  • simplelogic May 17, 10:55 a.m.

    "I would be curious if the delay in reporting the crack had anything to do with the Duke takeover."

    There was no delay in reporting the crack. There was a delay in spotting the crack. And if greed had anything to do with it, it would have made much better economic sense to fix this one when they fixed the others, rather than shutting down during processing, which is VERY expensive. Duke certainly knew about the others, which had zip impact on the deal.

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