Shearon Harris nuclear plant opens doors to media

Shearon Harris nuclear plant near Raleigh, N.C.
May 19, 2011 4:57:34 AM PDT
Progress Energy opened the doors of the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant to cameras Wednesday to show why it says what happened at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex in Japan in an earthquake won't happen here.

"We have to be well prepared for things we never thought could happen here," Progress Energy Vice President Chris Burton said during the tour of the Wake County nuclear facility located in New Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Raleigh.

"We're prepared to learn from what they're learning," Burton said.

Burton spent about three hours shepherding ABC11 around the plant, mostly talking about safety.

In the control room, he said the message of safety is driven home by redundancy.

There is two of just about every safety system, "so that if any one piece of equipment were to fail when needed, the other complete set of equipment, when needed, could carry out that function," Burton said.

Burton said a good example is two trip switches, both of which can shut reactors down in about 1.7 seconds if something goes wrong. It's a philosophy used throughout the plant.

If the plant were to go dark - which is what happened in Japan - seven different power lines could light it back up. There also are two enormous generators housed behind concrete walls built to withstand 179 mile per hour winds.

"We were prepared to have a tornado come directly across the site," Burton said in reference to the deadly April 16 tornadoes.

As for water, the plant has a remote pumping vehicle. Burton says the nuclear plant in Fukishima didn't have one but should have.

The remote pump enables workers "to be able to put water wherever we need to," Burton added. "Whether it's in the fuel pools, which we were just at, or whether it's to put water in the reactor systems inside."

Burton says the question now, post Fukishima, is do they need two of them? The fuel pools Burton mentioned hold used, radioactive fuel. Whatever the emergency, those pools have to stay full.

Some environmental groups have charged that the pools at Shearon Harris are an added risk.

"It's important we consider everything that could go wrong here, but we'll certainly go down every path we can think of," Burton said.

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