At around 4 p.m. Sunday, Shearon Harris operators discovered a pump motor in the plant's condenser had failed. The condenser feeds water to the steam generator and indirectly helps to remove heat from the reactor.
"Our plant operators took control of the plant and put it in a safe condition and made the conservative decision to take the plant offline," said Progress Energy spokeswoman Sharon Hall.
Hall points out customers never knew the difference unlike millions in the Northeast who were left in the dark last week by massive outages.
"Our system was able to absorb the loss of 900 megawatts without any impact to customers," Hall said.
Jim Warren, president of the nuclear watchdog group NC WARN, said the fact that Shearon Harris has a much higher rate of unplanned shutdowns or "trips" than other plants points to a larger problem -- problem compounded by the plant's storage of spent fuel rods.
"That trip opens an opportunity for an operator error or another system failure that could lead to a much more dangerous situation," he said. "Harris is clearly one of the most troubled reactors in the country now."
Hall said officials plan to investigate all aspects of the incident.
"We take this very seriously, but it was never a threat, impact or degradation to public safety," she said.
Progress Energy officials said they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each time there is an unplanned shutdown. They hope to have systems operating at 100 percent efficiency by Wednesday.
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