Can Shearon Harris withstand a disaster?

Shearon Harris nuclear plant near Raleigh, N.C.

March 13, 2011 9:00:00 PM PDT
Earthquakes and tsunamis aren't major threats in North Carolina, but there are other threats to the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant that have some people asking could a major disaster happen here?

The plant is in southern Wake County and a ten-mile emergency planning zone around it includes Apex, parts of Cary, Fuquay Varina, most of Jordan Lake, and areas north of Sanford.

Progress Energy says Shearon Harris is built to withstand acts of nature and manmade disasters.

“We test these systems on almost a daily basis. So, day in and day out, we’re inspecting, maintaining. We’re testing all of our emergency backup systems to ensure that they’re available when needed,” said Jeff Lyash, VP for Energy Supply.

While there may be several backup systems in place for natural disasters, Progress Energy admits it has not completed the final post 9/11 security upgrades to help prevent a terrorist attack.

“These are the latest upgrades, we are in the process of executing them,” Lyash said. “They are largely complete but the remaining items we’ll complete over the coming months.”

Jim Warren with the nuclear watchdog group NC Warn says he has other safety concerns about Harris.

“I think it’s reckless for the nuclear power industry in this country to have taken ten years already in upgrading defenses at these plants,” he said. “They were over 20 years in non-compliance with fire protection, the leading risk for a nuclear meltdown.”

By practice, Progress Energy says it’s constantly monitoring its equipment and making improvements. Despite some critics, the company says the public has nothing to fear.

“I’m confident that these plants are safe and that particularly Shearson Harris is safe,” Lyash said.

Nearby resident Johanna Bachman says if there is ever a real emergency, she will be listening to her weather radio with the Emergency Alert System. She lives three miles from Shearon Harris and says she’s prepared.

“We have a 72 hour emergency kit which is pretty much backpacks that you prepare with water, change of clothes and a blanket,” Bachman explained.

She keeps her pantry fully stocked with extras and says if the supermarket shelves are empty, her family will be in good shape.

Seeing the recent images of the nuclear problems in Japan made her double check her supplies. There’s one potassium iodide pill for each family member and the pills are kept in an easy to find location. The pills are supposed to help protect from damage to the thyroid gland in the event of exposure to radiation.

“Hopefully we’ll never have to use them,” Bachman said.

And hopefully we’ll never see what happened in Japan happen here.

NC Warn is concerned the plant is considering adding two more reactors to the its site and that Duke Energy is meeting with the state utility commission Tuesday to discuss building another plant south of Charlotte.

Another plant would be at the customers’ expense.

“This Japan incident shows that you can turn a billion dollar investment into a multi-billion dollar liability overnight,” Warren said.

Bachman’s not concerned about the economics but more about the impact should things go wrong.

“God forbid it should,” Bachman said. “I feel very bad for the people in Japan, it’s extremely sad and I hope that it stays where it’s at and doesn’t get any worse.”

Some residents who buy new homes in the 10-mile Shearon Harris emergency planning area have to sign a statement that they understand they are in the zone.

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