Biz Blog

Choose a blog

N.C. accumulating large amounts of nuclear waste

Bookmark and Share

North Carolina, which relies on nuclear power for nearly half its electricity, is home to some of the nation's highest concentrations of radioactive waste taken from nuclear plants and kept in pools to prevent overheating.

This state's accumulated nuclear waste ranks fourth in the nation by volume, according to a report issued today by the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

The waste has been stored for decades at Progress Energy's Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwestern Wake County, Brunswick plant near Wilmington and Duke Energy's McGuire plant near Charlotte.

Shearon Harris, less than 25 miles from Raleigh, stores overflow waste from the company's Brunswick plant and H.B. Robinson plant in South Carolina. The Harris plant ranks 22nd nationwide for total nuclear waste.

The nuclear industry and Nuclear Regulatory Commission have repeatedly said that spent fuel pools are safe ways to store radioactive waste indefinitely. This country for the past half-century has been looking for a permanent site to store the lethal waste, which requires at least 10,000 years to deplete its radioactivity.

The report's author, Robert Alvarez, writes that the high concentrations of nuclear waste in this country pose a growing public safety risk, as manifested by the events unfolding in Japan.

"The largest concentration of radioactivity on the planet will remain in storage at U.S. reactor sites for the indefinite future," Alvarez states.

At Japan's Fukushima complex, at least one spent fuel pool is believed to have lost water after an earthquake and tsunami in March, resulting in the melting of nuclear fuel and release of radioactivity. Officials in that country resorted to cooling the overheated waste in the damaged pool by using helicopters to douse the facility with water.

Duke's Oconee plant in South Carolina ranks third in the nation for total waste stored, while the McGuire plant ranks eighth, as measured by radioactivity.

The Institute's report offers the first glimpse at the state of nuclear waste storage in this country in a decade. Details about on-site nuclear waste storage have been classified since nuclear plants were deemed potential terrorist targets in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

But the Institute estimated the amounts being held at 64 nuclear sites around the country based on the quantities of waste a nuclear plant produces annually.

North Carolina is storing nearly 3,000 metric tons of uranium, according to the Institute's extrapolation, ranking only behind New York (just over 3,000 metric tons), Pennsylvania (nearly 4,500) and Illinois (over 7,500).

The pools are generally held by steel-reinforced walls up to 6 feet thick, but federal requirements don't require the facilities to have backup power for emergency cooling during an accident, even though the Progress and Duke spent fuel pools do have emergency pumps available.

Older plants with multiple reactors tend to have accumulated the greatest amounts of waste in waste pools and also in reinforced casks stored outdoors. The Institute argues that dry cask storage is much safer, though it would cost the industry at least $3.5 billion to thin out the pools and store the waste above ground in the casks.

Nuclear plants were originally designed to hold spent fuel for five years, enough time for the waste to cool down so it could be removed to a permanent storage repository.

Because no permanent solution has been agreed upon, the waste is stored in pools indefinitely, often in high-density configurations that hold more waste than originally intended.

Nearly all nuclear plants owned and operated by North Carolina's power companies hold more radioactive waste than originally planned.

The Shearon Harris plant in Wake County has one reactor but four pools, because it was originally designed for four reactors. Three of the pools are currently in use and hold overflow waste from Progress Energy's two other plants.

The company's Brunswick and H.B. Robinson plants recently began using dry cask storage in addition to spent fuel pools, as is the practice at all of Duke Energy's nuclear plants in the Carolinas.




Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Hydroelectric you big dummies

Retrofitting every "flood control" dam and reservoir in the state to produce polution free electricity 24/7 is the obvious solution to our energy crisis.  Focusing on existing dams would eliminate almost all environmental impacts. What is wrong with you people?

Get your nuke potassium iodide pills

Shearon Harris is not shutting down any time soon. Business week did a story on all the nuke plants in the US and their time lines. SH has a projected 25+ years left in it's life.

rad waste

Eventually, in the not too distant future, these plants will have to be decommissioned.  The reactors will have become too brittle to be safe due to the constant radioactive bombardment.  No one knows the cost, but each reactor will cost in the $billions.  The Yankee reactor was supposed to be first, but they decided to extend the license.  The electric bill you pay now does not include the cost of decommissioning, not even an estimate in order to build up an account to cover the cost.  Another debt kicked down the road to our grandchildren.  The spent fuel rods contain plutonium, 1/2 life for decay of about 25,000 years.  Times 6 to reach 99+% decay and that means those pools have to last 150,000 years.  Know any man-made object to last that long?  Scary indeed.


There you have the reality of this so-called clean, green source of energy. Sad and Scary.

Cars View All
Find a Car
Jobs View All
Find a Job
Homes View All
Find a Home

Want to post a comment?

In order to join the conversation, you must be a member of Click here to register or to log in.

About the blogger

John Murawski has been a full-time newspaper reporter since 1991, with stints at Legal Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy (both in Washington, DC), The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Palm Beach Post (in South Florida) before arriving at the N&O in December 2004. At the N&O he covers energy (nuclear, coal, renewable, efficiency), hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), public utilities and health care. His beat includes PSNC Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy Progress, PowerSecure International, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Biogen Idec and others. He has also contributed more than 30 book reviews on topics spanning botany, history, science and religion. You can reach him at 919-829-8932 or e-mail him.