Alert declared after smoke detected at Harris Nuclear Power Plant

Officials declared an alert Saturday morning after smoke was detected in plant electrical equipment.
January 20, 2014 5:46:19 PM PST
Officials at Harris Nuclear Power Plant declared an alert Saturday at 10:16 a.m. after smoke was detected in plant electrical equipment.

Plant operators safely suspended operations as on-site fire crew responded. No visible flames were detected.

Off-site firefighters responded as backup but were then released.

An inspection of the affected plant equipment revealed no impact to the safe operation of the plant.

Officials exited the alert at 3:51 p.m. and said the plant is currently offline and in stable condition.

"It is important to know that there is no risk to public health or safety, nor is any expected," said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry, in a released statement. "The swift and coordinated response among all agencies involved demonstrates that North Carolina has a seasoned emergency management team that stands ready to protect the public."

There were no radioactive materials released as a result of the event.

Officials said the issue originated in a transformer, and the plant will return to full power once the equipment is restored.

Crews have started an investigation as to what caused the smoke.

Duke Energy Progress said the public is not in danger, but folks still have fears.

"After the Japan accident and the big scare from that...this is something to be concerned about a fire at a nuclear plant power," said Raleigh resident Brad Henningsgaard.

The alert is the latest problem at the plant. It just went back online last month after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shut it down after a flaw was found in the reactor. It was also taken offline in May, when an inspection revealed early signs of corrosion in the reactor's vessel.

"I hope that Duke pulls this together and gets this thing straight," said Henningsgaard.

"It's a nuclear power plant and it poses a danger to the surrounding area," added Raleigh resident Peter Henkel.

People are concerned considering how many incidents have happened within a one-year time span, but Duke Energy Progress is trying to reassure the public the plant is safe.

"I do question this automatic denial that there was never any risk to the public. A level two emergency declared simply cannot be summarized, as there was no danger to the public," said Jim Warren who runs the nuclear watchdog group NC WARN.

While Duke Energy Progress is quick to say no one actually saw flames, Warren says generally when there is some smoke there is fire.

"To say, we found smoke but didn't find fire, that's a throwaway line there," Warren said.

On Monday, ABC11 learned the transformer that started smoking powered the turbine that makes the energy. Officials said it was not on the so-called nuclear side of things, and at no point, were any nuclear fail safes compromised. However, folks who live in the area are concerned that the company is downplaying the risk.

"This standard line where they claim there was no danger to the public, they have not issued enough information to back that up at this point," said Warren.

Officials say the plant will remain offline until they figure out what caused the smoking transformer to overheat in the first place.


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