Harris plant neighbors seek answers over nuclear shutdown

Harris plant neighbors seek answers over nuclear shutdown

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HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. -

Neighbors in Holly Springs grilled federal regulators and Duke Energy executives at a nuclear safety forum Monday night.

More than 50 people attended, with many wanting to know why a quarter-inch flaw in a reactor at Harris Nuclear Plant went unnoticed for a year.

Last week, the southern Wake County plant was shut down after operators reviewing tests from last year rechecked the data and found tiny marks of corrosion and cracking that need repair.

"If there's a crack in my roof I would repair it immediately," Graham Baucom, of Holly Springs, said. "I put a high level of trust in big companies like Duke Energy. I would expect more from them than that."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted the forum Monday evening. The NRC inspects and monitors nuclear plants, and every year it holds an open house to answer questions from the public.

The NRC requires all plants review inspection data, like ultrasounds, periodically.

"There's simply zero tolerance for this kind of flaw that may be indicated," an NRC spokesman said.

"There are no indications yet that we've seen that would indicate that they did not follow their procedures, that they didn't do what they were supposed to do under the regulations," Roger Hannah, with the NRC, said.

Regis Repko, senior vice president of Nuclear Operations for Duke, said the energy company should have known about the flaw much sooner.

"This was a miss. It clearly doesn't meet our expectations and that's what our evaluation will do, to understand completely how this happened and what we need to put in place so it doesn't happen again."

Officials with Harris Nuclear Plant say that repairs to a damaged reactor vessel head are expected to be completed "in a matter of weeks."

"This type of repair is common in the industry and well understood, and has been successfully completed many times at nuclear plants across the country," Duke Energy spokeswoman Kim Crawford said. Crawford added that Duke Energy expects the reactor to be operating soon after the repairs.

The crack in the Harris reactor vessel head is only a quarter of an inch, but it could have major repercussions. WNCN obtained the report that shows it had the potential for uncontrolled radiation release.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy took over the plant after its merger with Raleigh-based Progress Energy last summer. Some critics, like Jim Warren with climate change advocacy group NC Warn, says that timing is suspicious.

"I believe that if this had come out at the time, at the very delicate phase of the merger, I think it well could have scuttled that merger."

Duke Energy disputes that claim.

Meanwhile, WNCN learned the plant's safety rating was downgraded last year after it was cited for "failure to maintain adequate emergency facilities and equipment" in case of an emergency.

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