Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant

Boomer Fleming
March 9, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 1. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant, Unit 1 (see Fig. 1) is located in New Hill, North Carolina - 22 miles southwest of Raleigh and 22 miles northeast of Sanford. It is a 900 MW pressurized water reactor operated by Duke Energy. Possessing a 526-foot high cooling tower, the $3.8 billion facility began commercial operation on May 2, 1987. The facility is made up of one-half million yards of concrete - which equates to 75 miles of four-lane highway. [1] Using Harris Lake as its primary water source, the plant is the second largest nuclear facility in North Carolina. [2]

History of the Plant

In response to large, budding energy demand of the region kicking off in the 60s, Carolina Power and Light Company (CP&L) sought and, after much research and planning, received a permit in 1978. Due to fluctuating economic conditions and demand, only one of the four planned nuclear reactors was built. A sixteen-year time span of construction of the plant supplied over 2,000 jobs. The plant is named after Shearon Harris, a former president, chief executive officer and chairman of CP&L. He is credited as a prominent figure within the U.S. energy industry during the 1970s. He helped to establish the Electric Power Research Institute and served as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1978. [1]

The plant suffered a brief shutdown in May, 2013 that lasted 20 days due to corrosion and cracking in the the reactor vessel, a component of the facility that holds nuclear fuel. The crack was about a quarter-inch and did not breach the reactor vessel wall, nor did it release any radioactive material. Duke Energy admitted this crack had been originally seen in an inspection a year prior. The shutdown was estimated to cost nearly $1 million a day. [3]

Plant Security and Emergency Preparedness

Since the events of September 11, 2001 the plant has heightened security with restricted access in conjunction with its 24/7 armed, trained professional security. The plant works in coordination with intelligence, military, law enforcement, and emergency response at the federal, state, and local level. A comprehensive emergency plan has been developed with local and state officials. The plant has also strategically placed 81 sirens within a 10-mile radius of the facility. [1]

False Alarm of 2018

The facility's emergency sirens were accidentally sounded on Friday January 19th, 2018. Wake County released a statement 44 minutes after the incident assuring the public that there was no emergency. Several of the 81 sirens within a 10-mile radius of the facility misfired. This occurrence happened only a week after an employee of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency accidently sent a mass text to citizens of the state stating there was an inbound missile, which gained criticism for taking 38 minutes for a correction. [4]


The Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant is an example of successful generation of valuable energy by a nuclear source for an extended period of time. Looking forward, while the facility has had plans to expand, it has again faced economic instability that have delayed its plans and potential.

© Boomer Fleming. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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, October 2006.

[2] B. Chaffin, "North Carolina Nuclear, Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

[3] E. Crump, "Wake County Nuclear Plant Shut Down, ABC News, 16 May 13.

[4] H. Gargan and A. Blythe, "Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant's Emergency Sirens Were a False Alarm, Police Say," The News and Observer, 19 Jan 18.