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Energy companies include nukes in response to growth

Progress Energy has applied for two new reactors at Shearon Harris, and N.C. State says more students are choosing a nuclear engineering major.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Shearon Harris nuclear power plant could be growing, and engineering students see nuclear power coming back as a career option.
In February, Progress Energy filed applications with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to possibly build two new reactors at the plant. Power company officials said they are trying to keep up with growth in the area.

Progress Energy spokeswoman Kim Crawford said the company adds about 25,000 to 30,000 new customers in the Carolinas every year. She said the company expects to add a half-million new customers by 2026.

Jim Warren heads up the watchdog group N.C. Warn, which aims to reduce hazards that it says nuclear power and other polluting electricity production pose to public health and the environment.

“I think it’s a huge, unnecessary risk financially in terms of safety,” Warren said.

Warren said companies should focus on other energy projects.

“It’s squandering the precious time and money we need to devote to real climate solutions,” Warren said.

With the growth in the area, Crawford said, Progress Energy is going to need energy efficiency, renewables, alternatives and new generating capacity.

Dr. Ayman Hawari, a professor and head of the nuclear reactor program at North Carolina State University, said the nuclear industry is starting to move again. The number of students in the nuclear engineering program has more than tripled in the past six years, he said.

“In order to support the surge, we need the human resource, and we see N.C. State playing a role,” Hawari said.

The talk of building new plants has more students eying careers in the industry.

“It’s an option that maybe 10 years ago wasn’t as clear as it is now for incoming freshmen,” Hawari said.

The major power providers in the state have said three new nuclear reactors are needed to accommodate the growing energy need. In addition to Progress Energy’s possible two reactors, Duke Energy said it needs a new reactor to serve the Charlotte area.