North Carolina Nuclear

Brian Chaffin
February 20, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Shearon Harris Plant

Fig. 1: Sharon Harris Nuclear Power Plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Behind only the Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant, the Harris plant (seen in Fig. 1) is the second largest nuclear facility in North Carolina. The Harris plant was commissioned on May 2, 1987 and is located in New Hill, North Carolina with the main water source being Harris Lake. The Shearon Harris site was originally designed for four reactors, but budget issues and weak demand resulted in three of the reactors being cancelled. [1] There is other controversy surrounding this site as well, the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network believes this plant may be the most dangerous plant in all the United States, even though the plant has passed countless safety tests. Additionally, the plant experienced a shut down in May, 2013 for a malfunctioning control rod that could lead to harmful leakage. None the less, as of February 2017 the plant is still operational and seeking to expand. [1]

Goldsboro Crash

Fig. 2: Road marker in Eureka, NC, commemorating the 1961 B-52 crash. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On January 24, 1961 near Goldsboro, North Carolina a B-52G bomber filled with two Mark 39 hydrogen thermonuclear bombs on board linked up with another plane in mid-air for an aerial refueling. At that moment, the pilot of the tanker plane realized that the B-52G bomber had a fuel leak in its wing. The re-fuel was abruptly cancelled, and the B-52 attempted to get back to base, but it was losing too much fuel, too quickly (37,000 lbs of fuel in 3 minutes). [2] The pilot called for the all eight of the crew members to eject, where five crew members survived and three crew members died (a sign to commemorate this tragedy is seen in Fig. 2). As for the two nuclear bombs on board, they nearly detonated and caused severe damage, but the safety switch, the last of six safety measurements prevented a major nuclear disaster from happening. After this incident, the arming mechanism of the Mark 39 hydrogen thermonuclear bomb was changed to be safer and engineers made significant safety modifications to the wings of the B-52G bomber. [3]

© Brian Chaffin. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Harris Nuclear Plant, Media Information Guide," Progress Energy, 2006.

[2] C. Myers, "The Night Hydrogen Bombs Fell on North Carolina," Our State Magazine, 29 May 12.

[3] E. Schlosser, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (Penguin, 2013).