A Quarter of Emergency Sirens Out of Service at Harris Nuclear Plant

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The Shearon Harris Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant with a single Westinghouse designed pressurized-water nuclear reactor operated by Progress Energy.  Located in New HillNorth Carolina, in the United States, about 20 miles (30 km) southwest of Raleigh, it generates 900 MWe, has a 523 foot (160 m) natural draft cooling tower, and uses Harris Lake for cooling. The reactor achieved criticality in January 1987 and began providing power commercially on May 2 of that year.

“At approximately 0730 [EDT] on 8/9/11 a siren system communication problem was discovered by Emergency Preparedness personnel at the Harris Nuclear Plant (HNP). Telecommunications was contacted to troubleshoot the problem and at approximately 0820 [EDT] the communications system was restored. A previously scheduled quarterly growl test was conducted with 83 sirens performing satisfactorily. Upon further investigation, it was determined that there were communication failures recorded during the 0600 [EDT] report.

“20 of the 83 sirens were impacted by the communications errors. The previous 0000 [EDT] report indicated no communications errors. Investigation is continuing as to the ability of the sirens to be activated during the period the errors were received. It is likely that the ability to activate the sirens had been lost, therefore, this event is reportable per 10 CFR 50.72(b)(3)(xiii) due to the loss of a significant portion of the offsite notification system. The cause of the communication errors are believed to be due to radiofrequency disturbances however the investigation is ongoing.

“In the event that the sirens had been needed, the State of North Carolina and all four counties within the 10-mile emergency planning zone would have implemented mobile route alerting, as detailed in the Emergency Plan.”

The licensee notified the NRC Resident Inspector.

The anti-nuclear group “N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network” (NC-WARN) believes that Shearon Harris’ safety and security record is insufficient, and questions whether it is the most dangerous nuclear plant in the US.

In 2010, Project Censored, a non-profit, investigative journalism project, ranked the safety issues at Shearon Harris the 4th most under-reported story of the year, because of the risk of fires at what are the largest spent fuel pools in the country:

Between 1999 and 2003, there were twelve major problems requiring the shutdown of the plant. According to the NRC, the national average for commercial reactors is one shutdown per eighteen months. Congressman David Price of North Carolina sent the NRC a report by scientists at MIT and Princeton that pinpointed the waste pools as the biggest risk at the plant. “Spent fuel recently discharged from a reactor could heat up relatively rapidly and catch fire,” wrote Bob Alvarez, a former advisor to the Department of Energy and co-author of the report. “The fire could well spread to older fuel. The long-term land contamination consequences of such an event could be significantly worse than Chernobyl.”

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