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Harris Plant operating at reduced capacity following equipment malfunction

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NEW HILL, N.C. -

The Harris Nuclear Plant is operating at a reduced output after an early morning malfunction on the non-nuclear side of the facility Thursday.

Officials issued the alert around 3 a.m. after an equipment malfunction cut power to electrical distribution equipment.

After an inspection of plant equipment revealed no threat, the alert was canceled shortly after 5:30 a.m. The unit is stable at a reduced power level of 91 percent while recovery actions continue.

The situation never got to the point where officials had to sound sirens even though Duke's report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it declared an emergency because the problem affected what's known as the safe shutdown gear following an electrical explosion in a transformer.

There was never a threat of radioactive materials being released.

"I've got that little radio and it came on last night, but it said low level emergency and I just ignored it and went back to bed," said New Hill resident Mike Mitchel

Resident Paul Barth added, "There are things that happen at the plant periodically and most are not of any significance. And we know if there's real major problem, they'll set off the alarms."

But the incident set off alarms with the head of watchdog ground NC WARN. In reviewing the report filed with the NRC, Jim Warren of NC Warn points out that the transformer failure affected one of the plant's emergency diesel generators.

"I'm a little curious that it took them a while to realize the importance of that bus," Warren said. "If there were to be other problems within the plant, those generators would have to be put into use. They are the backups to keep all the safety equipment running in case of a larger failure at the plant."

Duke Energy Progress said there is more than one emergency generator that can be used if needed.

As he continues to live in the figurative backyard of the power plant, Barth believes regulators will keep a tight watch on things.

"I'm sure there's enough oversight from the NRC that the appropriate changes and fixes will be put into place."

This isn't the first time the nuclear plant has been in the news this summer. In May, officials had to shut down the plant for weeks because of a flaw inside the nuclear reactor.

A final report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission showed that the operators of the plant violated a reporting requirement, causing them to miss a quarter-inch crack last year.

If left unchecked, the crack could have led to radioactive exposure.

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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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