Shearon Harris nuclear plant repairs expected to take several weeks

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 24, 2013 

— Repairs to the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant will take “in the order of weeks,” a Duke Energy official said Monday evening.

The plant has been shut down since Wednesday after regulators found a quarter-inch flaw in the reactor vessel head that violated safety requirements.

The safety concern has quickly grabbed regional and national attention. More than 60 activists, officials and locals convened Monday night in Holly Springs for an annual meeting about the plant, which turned into a question-and-answer session about the ongoing shutdown.

The plant, which is owned by Duke Energy Progress, the Raleigh-based subsidiary of Charlotte-based Duke Energy, is less than 25 miles from downtown Raleigh.

The exact nature of the flaw remains unclear. The flaw is a “low to moderate” risk, according to Joe Austin, senior resident inspector at the plant for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “It’s on the verge of ‘not all that significant,’ but significant enough that we needed to send people,” he said.

The NRC now will dispatch a “special inspection team” from Atlanta to investigate the flaw. Duke likewise has commissioned “three independent reviews of that data to ensure, as we always do, that Harris operates safely,” said Regis Repko, Duke’s senior vice president for nuclear operations.

Plant officials learned of the flaw last week after an independent contractor reviewed ultrasonic data recorded in spring 2012.The flaw is “just a shadow. It’s very, very thin,” according to Ernie Kapopoulos, site vice-president for Duke Energy.

Discovery of early cracking and corrosion in vessel heads at plants “is not common, but it’s not unheard of,” said Roger Hannah, senior public affairs officer for the NRC. But it’s not typical that an issue of low to moderate significance would go unnoticed for a year, Austin acknowledged.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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