The energy company, which serves 1.4 million customers in the Carolinas, said it chose Shearon Harris after evaluating 13 potential locations in North Carolina and South Carolina, based on its available transmission lines and proximity to cooling water.
The Harris Plant site was originally planned for four nuclear reactors, but due to changing economic conditions in the 1970s and 1980s, only one reactor was built. The Harris site offers a large amount of available land -- approximately 35 square miles -- and has an ample water supply, Progress Energy said.
"We already have existing substations in transmission capacity to get that power out to our customers," said Julie Hans, spokeswoman for Progress Energy. "Here in the Triangle area and Carolinas, this is the location of our largest concentration of customers."
Progress Energy CEO Robert McGehee said Monday that the utility has added 29,000 customers over the past year, or more than 550 per week, and must increase its power-generating ability to meet the needs of another 300,000 new customers it expects to add over the coming 10 years.
But critics question the proposal, pointing to alleged security lapses, unplanned shutdowns and the plant's growing nuclear waste storage as signs of vulnerability.
"Progress Energy has not demonstrated the ability to operate a nuclear power plant safely and securely and economically," said Jim Warren, a representative of the local antinuclear group N.C. Warn.
"I think the public, overwhelmingly, when informed, especially when informed about the risks and costs of nuclear power plants, I think the public will be in favor of the smart energy approach," Warren said.
Within the next few months, public meetings will be scheduled to discuss a new nuclear reactor, but so far there has not been much opposition from residents living near the Harris site -- who must sign legal documents before moving into the area saying they understand the risks of living close to a nuclear reactor.
They say they have considered the risks and accept them.
"I go to sleep at night. I have no problems," said nearby resident Toby Miller. "Right now, I don't have any problems with (building a second nuclear reactor). I feel like we do need to, in order to keep up with the growth. It's something we need to look into."
Progress Energy informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in August 2005 of its plans to submit a combined operating license application for a nuclear power plant. It updated those plans Nov. 1, 2005, to include a second combined operating license, one for Florida -- where the company has an additional 1.5 million customers -- and one for the Carolinas. Each combined operating license covers up to two reactors at each site.
Should Progress Energy want to go ahead with construction plans, the applications would be filed in late 2007 or early 2008, the company said Monday. With NRC approval, construction could begin as early as 2010, and a new plant could be online as early as 2016.
A final decision on whether to build the $2 to $3 billion reactor is still several years away and will depend on factors including public and political support, regulatory approval, and predictions of energy demand and economic conditions for the latter part of the decade, the Raleigh-based utility said in a statement.
North Carolina gets 32 percent of its power from five nuclear sites, 20 percent of which is supplied by Shearon Harris. Progress Energy has two other reactors in Brunswick County and Charlotte-based Duke Power has two reactors in Cornelius, north or Charlotte.
Duke Power is expected to announce soon its own plans for a new reactor. The company, which is reviewing 14 potential sites, serves 2.1 million customers in the Carolinas.
Nationwide, there are currently 103 commercial nuclear reactors -- which provide about 20 percent of the nations' electricity -- operating in 31 states. The last nuclear plant to open in the U.S. was in 1996 in Tennessee.
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