Duke Energy shelves plans for new reactors at Shearon Harris

jmurawski@newsobserver.comMay 2, 2013 

After years of delays and postponements, Duke Energy issued an obituary for a pair of long-planned reactors at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in Wake County.

The Charlotte power company has canceled plans to add the new reactors to the site, where a single unit has been generating electricity for a quarter-century. Duke told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that sluggish growth forecasts show new nuclear units won’t be needed for at least 15 years.

The announcement Thursday spells the end of the vaunted nuclear renaissance in the Triangle, a fast-growing region that until the recession had signified the urgent need for nuclear energy.

“They kept teasing and talking about it for some time,” said Jim Warren, director of NC WARN, a Durham anti-nuclear group. “All these grand plans for building nuclear stations are going by the wayside.”

It’s the second nuclear project Duke has canceled since acquiring Raleigh-based Progress Energy in July. Earlier this year Duke said it would not repair Progress’s idled Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida.

The about-face also shows how the nation’s rapidly changing energy landscape is playing out in North Carolina. As nuclear development costs have soared, with the price tag for a single reactor exceeding $10 billion, the emergence of fracking and natural gas are supplying the nation with an affordable and relatively clean-burning fuel for electricity generation.

However, Duke said that other nuclear plans are still alive. Applications for Duke’s proposed Lee plant near Gaffney, S.C., and a site in Levy County, Fla., remain active.

Progress Energy’s nuclear performance caused friction between executives at both companies when Duke was in the process of acquiring Progress. Immediately after the $32 billion deal closed last year, Duke’s board fired Progress CEO Bill Johnson, who had been slated to run the combined company.

The company later blamed Johnson’s management of Progress’s nuclear plants as one of the reasons for the dismissal. In the months leading up to the merger, Progress nuclear plants including Shearon Harris were hobbled by special regulatory inspections and unusual mishaps.

The plans for the Shearon Harris units go back to 2006. In subsequent years, Progress moved back the schedule even as it kept its federal application pending.

Progress spent $70 million on its NRC application and on preliminary engineering and environmental work.

The Shearon Harris site, near New Hill, was originally designed for four reactors, but only one was built amid massive cost overruns and scaled back growth expectations. The compound has four pools to hold radioactive nuclear waste, three of which are holding spent nuclear fuel rods in one of the nation’s largest concentrations of radioactive waste.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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