Shearon Harris Nuclear

The Shearon Harris Nuclear Generating Station is a single-unit nuclear power plant located in New Hill, North Carolina. Construction began on the plant in 1978, but it did not begin commercial operation until 1987.  Its sole Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor has an installed capacity of 900 MW and produces about 7400 GWh of electrical power a year for the residents of central North Carolina. Licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission until 2046, Unit 1 was originally planned to be accompanied by three sister units, though these plans were dropped before construction began on the site due to a lack of demand.

In 2008 the plant’s operator and primary owner, Progress Energy, applied to the NRC for permission to add two additional Westinghouse AP1000 Pressurized Water Reactors to the site. If approved, Units 2 and 3 would have an installed capacity of 1100 MW each and become operational no sooner than 2018. Progress holds an 84% stake in the plant, with the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency owning the remaining 16%.

Currently, Unit 1 is cooled by water drawn from nearby Harris Lake, the water level of which will have to be raised by about 20 feet if the NRC approves the installation of Units 2 and 3. Unit 1 also utilizes an electrical power generator that has been recycled from Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station’s damaged Unit 2. The site is additionally noted for the 523 ft tall natural draft cooling tower that releases excess non-radioactive steam back into the environment after it has been used in the plant’s power generation process.

Though no incident at the Shearon Harris Nuclear Generating Station has ever resulted in a death, injury, or the release of radioactive particles, its safety has been the subject of scrutiny over recent years. Project Censored, a non-profit journalism project, released a report in 2010 that noted the plant experienced twelve major incidents that required a shutdown of power generation between 1999 and 2003. The report also claimed that this rate is higher than the U.S. average for commercial reactors, which is about one shutdown every eighteen months. In addition, the report detailed findings by researchers at MIT and Princeton that claimed the plant’s spent fuel pools could become a potential fire risk.

Along with these hazards, the Shearon Harris Station may also have posed an additional health risk to its workers.  Many power plants built in the 1960s and 1970s made extensive use of asbestos-containing insulation and other products to protect buildings, equipment, and even workers from the extreme temperatures that come with the generation of electricity.  Unfortunately, the asbestos would ultimately prove detrimental to the workers who breathed it in.