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Progress Energy: Safety is key at Wake County nuclear plant

Posted May 18, 2011

The Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in New Hill
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— A 526-foot cooling tower that emits 10,000 gallons of water vapor per minute is the face of the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant in southwestern Wake County, but the Raleigh-based utility that owns the plant says safety measures are at its heart. 

In March, a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan hurled a tsunami onshore, damaging nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant and sending radiation into the air.

The nuclear disaster has prompted Progress Energy, which runs the Shearon Harris plant near New Hill, to re-evaluate its safety program.

Vice president of the Shearon Harris facility Chris Burton said that, when it comes to safety, redundancy is key.

"(We) have two pumps, two motors, two diesels, two valves so that, if any one piece of equipment were to fail when needed, (we) have a completely separate available system," Burton said. nuclear plant WRAL tours nuclear power plant

In the control room, among the hundreds of dials, screen and meters, there are even two kill switches.

Burton said there are many reasons that a nuclear disaster like what happened at Fukushima is unlikely to happen at Shearon Harris, but it's still a top priority to take every possible precaution.

"We calculate the risk every day," Burton said. "Maybe we haven't thought of every possibility, but we'll certainly go down every path we can think of."

Progress Energy: Safety is key at Wake County nuclear plant Progress Energy: Safety is key at Wake County nuclear plant

He said the plant is able withstand hurricane winds up to 179 mph and an earthquake registering in the 6 range on the Richter scale. He also said that a failed ventilation system caused many of the explosions at the Japanese plant, but Shearon Harris' vents have a different design.

Nuclear reactors create heat from uranium, which ultimately produces electricity through nuclear fission. After that process, long metal tubes containing the used uranium material must be cooled and stored to prevent them from releasing radiation. 

Progress Energy keeps its spent fuel rods in cooling pools; some rods have been underwater since the late 1980s, Burton said. Unlike Fukushima, where the damaged reactor caused fuel rods to overheat, nuclear waste is not stored in the same building as the reactor at Shearon Harris.

"The likelihood of having both buildings harmed is much lower," Burton said. 

The facility has been in operation since 1987 and is licensed for another 35 years.

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  • MECU0905 May 19, 2011

    It is so refreshing to hear some positive comments about Harris and nuclear technology!

  • skyyekatfromafar May 19, 2011

    On watching this report I have a much better understanding of how our 'Sharron' works and from all appearances, very well. There are still some concerns, especially when I read the following posted by
    hi_i_am_wade . . ."If people would let go off the irrational and imaginary fears about nuclear power, we could build new, more efficient reactors . . . " To this I will only add--I hope that all persons working on the construction of such facilities have to take mandatory drug tests. And no--I wouldn't make such a statement if I had not met and talked with someone who was involved in the construction of the Sharron Harris plant. I am still concerned as to the safety of the structure itself.

  • m1024 May 19, 2011

    I believe you got temperature reversed with pressure. On the primary side, temperature is around 557 degF and pressure is around 2250 psig.Those are average values - T(in) is lower and T(out) is higher. But I've been out of it for 20 years. They may have changed some of the operating parameters since then.

  • SaveEnergyMan May 19, 2011

    FC2000, Rooster is right. Nuclear plants in the US use one of two technologies. Harris is a pressurized water reactor - so very hot, pressurized water is heated by the reactor. The water then creates high pressure steam, which then turns the turbine.

    Other plants use a boiling water design, which is what you're thinking of - reactor makes steam directly, turns a turbine. Both do essentially the same thing, but are designs from two different companies - GE and Westinghouse. There are advantages to each design over the other. Fission of uranium and radioactive decay of the products provides the heat in both cases.

    American reactors are very safe, but I agree that regular, intensive safety checks should be performed. You can never get complacent with nuclear technology.

  • Rooster May 18, 2011

    FC2000, think of a radiator. The water that goes into the reactor is in closed system and superheats to around 2000 degrees. This closed water is then pumped to another piping system OUTSIDE the containment vessel where cold (reasoinably cold) water is turned to steam by the superheated water in the closed system. The "cold" piping absorbs the heat from the closed system and turns to steam, pumped to a turbine to make electricity. As the ateam returns to liquid it is pumped up to the top of the cooling tower and is recycled. I agree with Wade! I would not be afraid to LIVE next door to the building! Containment Building

  • firecaptain2000 May 18, 2011

    Something is missing in this story. Electricity is produced buy nuclear fission? Huh? Is there an expert out there who can help me get this?

    I thought, nuclear fission produced HEAT, which boils WATER, which produces STEAM, which turns a TURBINE, that is attached to the shaft of a GENERATOR, which produces the ELECTRICITY.

  • hi_i_am_wade May 18, 2011

    I tell you this in truth: I'm more worried about being struck by lightning inside my house on a clear day than about problems at Shearin Harris or any nuclear plant. If people would let go off the irrational and imaginary fears about nuclear power, we could build new, more efficient reactors and lower our energy costs. Remember that electric cars won't run on hopes and dreams.

    Also remember that it took a major earthquake AND a tsunami to take down the nuclear plant in Japan. In fact, the new reactors could have survived both.

    Expand Shearin Harris! Expand all nuclear power plants in this country!