Local News

Orange County may oppose Shearon Harris expansion

Posted July 31, 2008 11:57 a.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2008 1:43 p.m. EDT

— Progress Energy might build two more nuclear reactors at its Shearon Harris facility in Wake County. However, the company first has to get approval to do it.

Before company officials make up their minds, some local elected officials are moving forward with plans to oppose it.

The company is in the midst of public hearings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a requirement to build new reactors.

Progress Energy officials said a growing customer base and a higher demand for power justify the expansion. The company expects to add 500,000 customers in the next 20 years.

The approval process could take years, but Orange County isn't wasting any time. The Board of Commissioners called a special meeting for Thursday night to consider a resolution to oppose Progress Energy's permit to expand Shearon Harris.

The resolution says Orange County is concerned about the potential for spontaneous combustion of spent nuclear fuel rods during low water conditions. It also says expansion of the plant would enhance the attraction of the facility for terrorist attacks.

Wake County leaders are on record in support of the plan. The school district approves.

"Electricity is an infrastructure that we need," said Joe Bryan, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners.

If Orange County commissioners vote in favor of the resolution, they will file a formal intervention with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A final decision on whether to build the $2 to $3 billion reactor is still years away and will depend not only on public support, but on regulatory approval, predictions of energy demand and economic conditions, Progress officials said.

A new plant could be online as early as 2018 if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves.

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.

Nationwide, 20 percent of electricity comes from 103 commercial nuclear reactors operating in 31 states.