Fire at Harris triggers alert, but posed no threat

aweigl@newsobserver.comJanuary 18, 2014 

Duke Energy officials say no radioactive materials were released when a fire broke out in electrical equipment at Shearon Harris nuclear plant near New Hill. Company and state officials assured the public that the incident did not pose a threat to public health or safety.

Beth Stevenson with Duke Energy’s corporate communications said Saturday afternoon that operators shut down the plant after smoke was detected, although the fire brigade that responded did not see any flames. It was determined, Stevenson said, that “a part of a transformer had overheated.”

“There was never any threat to public safety,” Stevenson said.

N.C. Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying Duke Energy notified the emergency management agencies for the state and Wake, Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties that morning about the equipment malfunction.

An alert is the second in increasing severity of four nuclear emergency classifications. This classification is used to describe conditions that require emergency response agencies to be in a heightened state of readiness but pose no threat to public safety.

The alert was declared at 10:16 a.m. and ended at 3:51 p.m., according to Stevenson. In response, the state and the counties staffed their emergency operation centers to monitor and coordinate any needed response.

Perry said in the statement: “While the situation never posed a threat to public safety, it has provided our emergency response team with a valuable opportunity to test and coordinate our plans and procedures for a real event. The swift and coordinated response among all agencies involved demonstrates that North Carolina has a seasoned emergency management team that stands ready to protect the public.”

In May, the plant, less than 25 miles southwest of downtown Raleigh, was shut down after Duke Energy found a flaw in the reactor vessel that had gone undetected for more than a year. Federal nuclear regulators investigated the oversight and determined that overwork was a contributing factor.

In August, an electrical failure prompted the company to mobilize almost 300 emergency-response workers, but the damage was not found to be extensive, and the plant was not shut down.

Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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