Shearon Harris blows up on Tuesday

There have been many interesting topics I haven't had time to blog about lately. One of them was the Chapel Hill Town Council signing on to the growing regional movement to ensure that Shearon Harris (the nuclear plant just a few miles from Orange County) is operated in safe manner that does not threaten the health of its neighbors and the state of North Carolina.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Orange County Board of Commissioners will be considering the same issue Tuesday. Here's some info from mega-activist Pete MacDowell:

The Carrboro Bd. of Aldermen: 7:30 at Carrboro Town Hall

County Commissioners: 7:00 in Gordon Battle Courtroom, 106 East Margaret Lane, Hillsborough.

Dear Orange County Members and Friends of NC WARN,

Great News! On Wednesday, the Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously voted in support of their resolution based on our legal action to the NRC asking for emergency action to bring Shearon Harris into compliance with federal fire safety regulations and called for no consideration of early relicensing of the plant until it is brought into compliance. They also called for a public forum on the issue. Please send these good folks a quick thank you at

This coming Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, both the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and the Orange County Board of Commissioners will separately consider our resolution.

The Carrboro Bd. of Aldermen will meet at 7:30 at the Carrboro Town Hall and the Bd. of Commissioners will meet at 7:00 in the F. Gordon Battle Courtroom, 106 East Margaret Lane, in Hillsborough. The County will also consider a resolution to expand the evacuation planning zone from the current 10 mile radius around the plant to 50 miles – so it would encompass Orange County. Elected leaders in both bodies have expressed support for a public forum.

Progress Energy was caught flat footed on Wednesday. We expect them to be much more prepared this coming Tuesday. WE NEED YOUR HELP. Please be at one of the meetings if you can and bring a friend. If you are unable to attend, please take a minute and call or email your elected officials. The more personal the message, the better. Ask them to support the resolutions and tell them why you care that the plant is run as safely as possible. We would really appreciate it if you would let me know if you can come or if you have left messages.

Orange County Board of Commissioners contacts:

Carrboro Town Mayor and Bd. of Aldermen contacts:

For a quick run down on the issue, see The press release gives a good short overview. The Follow Up Letter to CEO, Bob McGehee, completely refutes their claim, in their own words, that they are in compliance with the federal fire safety regulations.

The legal action to the NRC was brought by NCWARN, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nuclear Information and Research Service, NC Fair Share, and SURGE (Students United for a Responsible Global Environment.

Please call me if you have any questions.

Many thanks,

Pete MacDowell
Program Director
259-3140 (cell)

PS: for some of the recent press coverage, see:



Twenty more years for Shearon-Harris seems likely given the NRC's lax attitude and continual reuffing of public input.

From today's N&O:

Progress Energy this morning filed for a 20-year extension to continue operating the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwestern Wake County.
The license renewal process will take between 22 and 30 months. As part of the process, the NRC will hold at least six public meetings in the vicinity of the nuclear plant. The first meeting, expected to be scheduled early next year, will present a general overview of the relicensing process. The second public meeting will review the nuclear plant's environmental impact. Subsequent meetings will update the public on the NRC's inspections of Progress Energy's aging management programs and procedures at the Shearon Harris plant. A final public meeting will allow for public comment on a draft of the nuclear plant's environmental impact review.

I knew I was forgetting someone: Paul Thames of Orange County staff was also on the line as was Alice Loyd of the NC Council of Churches Climate Connection project.

Just got back from a 1.5 hour phone in to an NRC meeting in Washington. The task was to clarify questions surrounding the petition by NC WARN, SURGE, and three other groups on Shearon Harris fire safety.

Also on the line were Sally Greene, Alice Gordon, Tom Vanderbeck, Allison Carpenter (SURGE), Pete MacDowell (NC WARN), and Kevin Foy's assistant.

At the DC meeting were Jim Warren of NC WARN, David Lochbaum of Union of Concerned Scientists, Paul Gunther of NIRS, and John Runkle attorney for the petitioners. Also various NRC and Progress Energy officials.

Leading off with Runkle, a very strong push was made for holding Progress accountable for meeting NRC fire safety regs, particularly in the context of the recent history of enforcement of related post 9/11 security regulations. But the point was made that historically, it has been Progress that called the shots with NRC doing little more than listening and assenting.

We also called for NRC participation in a public meeting locally so that more government leaders and residents can express their concerns and ask questions directly. There is some expectation that in January the Chatham County commissioners will join other local governments in endorsing the fire safety position and that such a meeting might take place shortly thereafter.

The latest:

Per NRC report below, all emergency sirens in the 10-mile zone surrounding the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant were inoperable for at least two hours yesterday (time of detection to correction). Note that the problem apparently occured on the communication tower where an intruder hung a flag last November, when Progress Energy said the tower was not crucial to safety.

Also today, an emergency was declared at the Arkansas One Nuclear Plant due to an electrical fire resulting in the loss of power to safety related equipment. (

Thanks Ruby (and Pete) for this thread. Assuring safety at Shearon Harris will be a daunting task for us given the history of the nuclear power industry and its "regulators."

And, it is important to recognize that safety is exactly what is at issue in the current action.

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Shearon Harris has been in violation of fire safety standards for the past 14 years. And, according to NRC, fire accounts for 50 % of the risk for catastrophic accidents in the U.S. nuclear power industry.

Shearon Harris has had several fires already, including one major fire that required 30 firefighters and caused as weeks-long plant outage.

Rather than correct these violations, Progress Energy is requesting nine years to study and resolve the issue. Meanwhile, it plans to apply for early re-licensing (its current license expires in 2026) and possibly for additional reactors at Shearon Harris.

The resolution we will consider this evening calls for strong action to force Progress into compliance with fire safety regulations and to deny any re-licensing until it does so.

Ignoring waste for a moment, can there be a safe nuclear power plant?

One good source on nuclear safety is here.

The Public Citizen's site has what looks like a good list of information about safety risks that should not be ignored. This site,, shows a comparison of fatalities associated with nuclear power plants to those from coal, natural gas, and hydro power (including references and details in the appendix). From 1970-1992 there were 6400 from coal, 1200 from hatural gas, 4000 from hydro and 31 from nuclear. Of course none of these take into account the probability of accidents associated with each type of power plant or the indirect health effects. What other comparisons of accidents, safety risks, or health effects from the different power industries are available?

Clearly, that report does not include cancer deaths from radiation emanating from nuclear plants. Or birth defects. One problem with gathering such data is that, while we know that nuclear plants cause these things, it is extremely difficult to say for certain that any one individual's death or affliction was caused by radiation from a plant.

Okay, let me rephrase this. Let's say Greenland slides into the ocean this year. Public sentiment turns against the power companies and we decide to do what is "right". Can there be a safe nuclear alternative if the plants are run with the public safety in mind.

Again, ignoring the waste issue, which is a completely different nut to crack.

I don't know if this is scary and ironic or just funny and ironic.

Today the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had a meeting on the Shearon Harris fire safety issue. The hearing process allows for interested parties to call in which, in this case, includes our local governments. Here's Pete MacDowell's description of what ensued:

I know Kevin [Foy] tried to get on the NRC call, because he called me. I had to recall NRC 4 or 5 times to get patched through, and then they lost us all and the ability to record the hearing. The technical person said they would probably have to cancel the hearing as a result. I said that the NRC ought to have a backup system. They said they “have about 10 of them, and they all seemed to have failed.”

So, the upshot is that we are supposed to accept NRC's assurances of reactor safety (despite continuing regulatory violations by Progress Energy) when they can't even get their phone systems to work. I don't think so.

That's correct, Mark, I should have said it doesn't include numbers for health effects, including cancer, radiation poisoning and birth defects. I wonder if it is really that difficult to determine the contribution from radiation exposure at or nearby a nuclear power plant. Can a comparison be made on number of cancer cases around a nuclear plant versus a similiar area that doesn't have a plant?

I don't know if there can or cannot be a safe nuclear alternative but maybe comparing the effects of nuclear power with other energy industries would help. For example, consider coal. There's no radiation risk like that of nuclear power but consider the health effects of mining, transporting and burning coal. There must be comparisons of health effects near coal mining areas or coal plants to similar areas without that industry. The same questions can be asked of gasoline and diesel, natural gas, photovoltaics, biofuels, etc. There are health effects associated with all of them. I would also say there are big risks to the public associated with all of them.

The question is not how to select among polluting energy systems. It is to choose between investment in production (via those systems) or investment in efficiency and renewables.

The investments Duke and Progress want to make in new capacity can be made in efficiency with a comparable net energy effect. Whereas new capacity takes years to bring on line, investments in energy efficiency can be made right now with immediate results. Investments in efficiency have the added benefit of immediately impacting favorably on global warming. In the decade it would take to bring a new reactor on line at Shearon Harris, we could make huge strides through efficiency and use the time (and savings) to develop cost-effective, clean, renewable energy source.

Good information on energy alternatives can be found on on this page from NIRS.

I was listening to the recent Assembly of Governments Meeting and was surprised that the NRC evaluation process is so protective of the power companies. When approving a nuclear plant, the speaker indicated that the process only allows for the evaluation of events that are within normal operating parameters and excludes consideration of events which are outside of normal design parameters (ie - catastrophic events are not part of the consideration and appear to be "inadmissable" to the proceeding).

Apparently the backup control wiring is supposed to have 3 hour fire protection and the materials used for this wiring only realistically has 20-40 minutes of protection. Shearon Harris obtained a variance which amounts to some person manually undertaking 50 or 60 error prone steps, according to what was presented at this meeting.

Sounds like an accident waiting to happen. The Apex fire is *the* headline story on CNN right now, which would pale in comparison to a Shearon Harris disaster.


Dan offered the most important reason to forego nuclear power as a way to reduce global warming. The same amount of money could buy more efficiency (negawatts) than the plants could produce and do that beginning immediately and on a much, much faster timeline. It's an insane approach which is totally in line with our national religion whose 1st Commandment is: First, relentlessly maximize profits.

Just as an aside. I did some rough calculations (which I totally screwed up at first) based on energy savings from switching to compact fluorescent bulbs. If NC banned other bulbs and used only these kinds, we could close down the worst polluting coal powered generating plants in NC. We also could probably lure a company here to produce the bulbs, which would be better than creating a couple dozen jobs over at Dell.


Here's the EPA's calculations:

FWIW, October is Change A Light month. Take the pledge!

Personal conservation is still the best way to save energy. If demand goes down, bigger plants won't be needed or justified.

I've changed as many as possible of my regular light bulbs to low-wattage fluorescent bulbs but I have a lot of overhead built-in floods as well. Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a fluorescent floodlight?

Yes, there is such a thing -- they cost about $10-12 each. Seach for CFL reflector or CFL flood.


Thanks for the feedback. I'll check it out.

Huzzah for negawatts. And lighting is a good place to start. A truly scandalous amount of electricity is squandered in this country on wasteful lighting practices, and on the cooling required to remove the excess heat they produce. If George C is talking about recessed fixtures, they are likely to be some of the most inefficient and wasteful lighting provision in your house, especially as typically installed en masse in kitchens etc. The bad news is that you may be disappointed by CFL reflector substitutes: fluorescents do not focus as well as incandescents, so they multiply the inherent inefficiencies of recessed fixtures. Try just one or two before you make a wholesale commitment. And don't forget that most CFLs are nondimmable and can burn out an average dimmer switch. Ultimately, much as I hate to promote more junk in the landfill, you may need to consider tearing out the recessed units and installing better kinds of fixtures.

There is a (very) small amount of mercury in CFLs, so they need to be disposed of properly after their long useful life is over. LEDs are on the horizon as another, more efficient alternative to both incandescents and fluorescents, but they are not quite ready for prime time in home lighting - yet. Couple of links below give some good information:


Thanks for the very useful info. Indeed, I am talking about recessed fixtures and the most used ones in my house are indeed in the kitchen/family room areas. I did find some fluorescent bulbs on the internet but they were most often offered by the case of 24. In CH Lowes also apparently carries some R30 size bulbs but I need the R40 size. Given your warnings I'll try to find a vendor from whom I can obtain a small number of bulbs in order to determine if they might be satisfactory. I really appreciate your heads-up on this. Thanks again.


Try the Home Depot in Hillsborough. They've been very responsive to my lighting purchases and have expressed an interest in setting up an alternative energy aisle.

Is there a non-polluting energy source? Even the production of solar cells involves the production of chemical waste. And somewhere the silicon had to be processed before it's used to make PVC's. Of course, I would guess that the number of fatalities and health effects would be less from PVC production than from nuclear power or coal (for example), maybe even if the numbers were scaled to the same power output from a nuclear power plant. All forms of power generation involves risks to public health, I was wondering if anyone had a realistic way to compare them.

By the way, I don't think it makes sense to extend the Sharon Harris license if there are outstanding safety issues. I also wish some of the money used to promote nuclear energy would have been instead used to advance other forms of energy production and efficiency. I love the notion of negawatts, a la Amory Lovens at the Rocky Mountain Institute

Great information on lighting alternatives.

I agree on both of your points, the dimmers don't work anymore and the recessed lighting is much dimmer. But, after a month or two I am mostly used to it. Terri, thanks for the link, I took the pledge! Retroactively.

The IEA released a report saying worldwide change would result in a 10% savings in energy usage. That is a lot of power saved just by banning light bulbs. We did it with regular gas (not everywhere in the world I guess), so why not with light bulbs?

I think the Change A Light campaign is a step in the banning process Robert. We need the price to come down on CFLs and if this kind of campaign can help make them more visible and increase demand, price will hopefully be removed as a barrier soon. But we also need to help the general public understand conservation pricing--or lifecycle costs. It may cost 5 times as much to buy a CFL but the energy saved over their 10 year lifespan more than makes up for the higher purchase cost.

This discussion has pretty much nailed one of the problems with nuclear--high up front construction costs without any good, publicly available information on lifecycle costs due to the lack of a waste disposal solution or health impacts. FWIW, at last year's forum on Global Climate Change (Center for Sustainable Enterprise--UNC Business School), the CEO's of Progress Energy and Duke Power assured everyone that they were investing big research bucks on renewables and alternatives. They said it was the only wise business decision.

But there's an interim period in which renewable technology isn't going to meet projected demand for the state, necessitating (in the CEOs' opinions) the construction of new facilities. I hope we can prove them wrong. If we all take the personal responsibility to turn off our lights, turn down our thermostats, insulate our homes, buy EnergyStar appliances, eat and shop locally, etc., maybe our actions will have more of an impact on the planning process than current growth projections.

The UNC Sustainability Office will be showing Kilowatt Ours for campus sustainability day on October 25 (7 pm, Murphey Hall). It does a great job of illustrating just how important our individual consumption patterns are in the big picture of energy production.

Until the CFL's can fix the "dimmers don't dim, and the light is dimmer" issue there will NOT be wholesale conversion to CFLs. I have CFL's where I can bear to have them...and in lights that tend to get left on (though that is less of an issue now that the kids are at college) but I still have incandescent or halogen bulbs in about 50% of my fixtures.

The quality of light provided by the CFL's is distressing to me. SERIOUSLY distressing. SAD distressing. (I have daylight rated bulbs in all my non-fluorescent fixtures.) I know there are some "daylight" fluorescent bulbs out there--I have them in some of my lamps--but they AREN'T as bright as incandescents, and they aren't really true daylight bulbs. (The kelvin rating is too low.) So...until the technology improves...I'll be a bad person 50% of the time.

Counterpoint here to the quality of light from CFL's.

We have them in every fixture in our house. I have no problem whatsoever with the light quality and have never heard anyone complain about it. We have dimmable CFL's on dimmer switches & they work fine.

It does take a short amount of time for some of the CFL's to achieve maximum brightness after initial switching. No problem - I just think for a few seconds about the money I'm denying the mercenary power companies.

Also, every room in our house is lit by natural light by design. This is a huge part of the strategy. A strategy not pursued by Home Builders Association/Big Energy/Status Quo Development, Inc.

Each light bulb will yield about a 500% return on investment in 5-7 years (although I've got a 1986 vintage Phillips CFL that may need a bullet in the ballast to take it out). It flickers, though, which just gives me another oppoprtunity to ruminate on the money I've kept out of the the klepto-utilities.

If all the lighting in the U.S. were energy-efficient, the savings would be equal to our total nuclear output.


My house has lots of natural light as well...we have HUGE casement windows and large picture windows. Trees help with heat gain in the summer--and in the winter sai9d heat gain is welcome. The "light problem" is primarily in the evening...and on cloudy days. (Like today!)

What brand of CFL's are you using? And are they rated for fully enclosed ceiling fixtures? Most of the "daylight" CFL's I've seen say "don't use in enclosed fixtures." We have those 1960's square ceiling fixtures with reflectors and pebbled glass...and many of the rooms only have ONE. Perhaps if we had multiple cans, as many new homes seem to, I wouldn't object so much.

Primary "overhead" lighting in the LR/DR IS fluorescent. Again--1960's "light trays" that hold long fluorescent tubes. The tubes wash the ceiling with light. I have fantasies of replacing them with fiber-optics someday...though I don't know if FO is an energy hog or not. I would just like to have an uninterupted flow of light.

George and Melanie,

Instead of replacing your floods with CFLs you might consider the new LEDs--even more efficient than CFLs.

I don't know the energy different between the two but I know that when we replace emergency exit lights (fluorescent) with LEDs we cut the energy use by about 1/3.


Mark - absolutely agree about daylight. I'd add that it's not just the quantity of glass, it's the placement that matters, and keeping excessive tree cover away on the exterior. It's amazing how many new homes have really bad daylighting, even with big windows. Melanie - don't replace your present lights with cans. It's about the worst thing you could do. As a fixture type they're about the most inefficient available in terms of quality light delivery, whatever kind of lamp you use, and they have many energy leakage issues when used in attic ceilings. Central ceiling fixtures are not the best either. Use the CFls in sconces, floor and table lamps, and pendant fixtures, and bring the light source as close as you can to the surface or function you want to illuminate, or bounce the light off walls for gentle glare-free background lighting. A few low-wattage halogens sparingly used can add sparkle in selected areas.

If you are looking for CFL's for recessed light fixtures, Home Depot sells (at least they have in the past) special can light inserts with a reflective cone and a lens cap over the CFL so you don't see the "bulb" itself.

Home Depopt has traditionally had the best selection of CFL's. Although they do sell some by a company called "American something" and, although the American flag packaging may stir something deep inside, they are inferior. The Phillips and panasonics are high quality.

I'm very interested in those LED's. Are they commercially available yet?

Natural light is not only cost efficient, it's good for your health. Especially mental health, but also physical health (if you distinguish the two). Think of how many fewer trips to the pharmacy we'd be taking if everyone got a couple hours of sunlight a day....

Hi Everyone,

Just want to thank all of you who suggested that I could replace my recessed R40 floods with CFLs. LOWES on Sage finally got some in. The price isn't too bad - a little more than $12 for a package of two. This is about 50 percent more than what you'd pay for a standard R40 bulb and about the same price as a long-life R40. Given that they use 18 watts instead of 75, it's a bargain. I've replaced all of my high-usage bulbs and will begin replacing the less-used ones over time (especially since I snatched LOWES' entire shelf supply). I'm very happy with the light they provide and, as Mark M suggested, they take a few seconds to warm up but it's well worth it. Thanks to all.


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