You Asked, We Answered: What’s the status of nuclear waste storage at Shearon Harris power plant? 🏭


You Asked, We Answered: What’s the status of nuclear waste storage at Shearon Harris power plant? 🏭 For this week’s Curious Chatham story, we’re heading to the power plant off of Shearon Harris Road. 

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“Connecting the curious across the county”
May 17, 2019

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Hello, Chathamites. Happy Friday!

“One Chatham” community forum brings Chatham’s east and west together

For a diverse community that spans over 700 square miles, Chatham County residents seemed connected, communicative and ready to brainstorm solutions at the “One Chatham” community forum held Wednesday in Pittsboro.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss issues of economic development, housing and disparity across the county. The Chatham News + Record partnered with Our Chatham to host the event, and a panel of five community leaders helped facilitate the conversation: Alyssa Byrd, Tami Schwerin, Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, Paul Cuadros and Susan Levy. Bill Horner III, publisher of the Chatham News + Record, served as the panel’s moderator.

The panelists at One Chatham from left to right: Alyssa Byrd, Paul Cuadros, Susan Levy, Tami Schwerin, and Stephanie Watkins-Cruz. (Alexis Allston/Our Chatham)

What were the key takeaways? 

  • West Chatham’s median household income is almost $32,000 lower than the east’s.
  • Paul Cuadros said, “I often think that people in West Chatham feel neglected and without a voice. And yet, it also contains our largest municipality, and it is among the most diverse parts of our county.”
  • Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, a policy analyst for the county, cited a need for more affordable housing and more individual living units.
  • Others brought up healthcare needs, a desire to attract millennials to the area, and the lack of access to food some Chatham residents face.
  • County commissioner Karen Howard commented, “We do have enough food. We have enough of everything. I think that what ends up happening is that the opportunity and access is concentrated in specific areas and we’re not necessarily, as a community, doing a good job of spreading that out.”
  • At the end, panelists were brainstorming solutions and strategies for how to deal with the divide moving forward. 
    • “We need to surround ourselves with people that are not like us,” Tami Schwerin said. “… I think we actually have the solutions here, we just have to keep digging and we need to keep listening to each other.”
    • “Don’t be part of perpetuating the divide,” Alyssa Byrd said. “We touched on this: communicate, participate, engage.”
Want to learn more about One Chatham? 

Read Adrianne’s full story on

You Asked, We Answered: What’s the status of nuclear waste storage at Shearon Harris power plant? 

Shearon Harris power plant. (Chloe Arrojado/Our Chatham)

For this week’s Curious Chatham story, we’re heading to the power plant off of Shearon Harris Road. It’s all thanks to Our Chatham subscriber Billy Cummings. He asked, “What is status of nuclear waste storage at Shearon Harris? How effective are local emergency management plans?”

What is nuclear waste, anyways? 🗑

  • Nuclear waste, also known as radioactive waste, refers to the radioactive leftovers of a nuclear reaction.
  • Power plants deal with nuclear waste according to federal standards set by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they have procedures depending on their two categories of waste: high-level waste and low-level waste.
  • According to the 2017 U.S. report for the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, there are 1,575 metric tons of spent fuel at the Shearon Harris location – the largest amount of spent fuel among the nuclear waste storage sites in North Carolina.

What are the local emergency plans? 🚨

  • If there was an emergency at the Harris nuclear plant, Duke Energy would contact local, state and federal authorities. These authorities have the power to activate sirens within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone around the nuclear plant.
  • You can check if you live in an Emergency Planning Zone here.
  • All of the Harris Nuclear Plant’s emergency preparedness information is compiled in an annual document.
  • Every two years, the power plant practices their response plans in a federally graded exercise.

So, what’s the solution here? 🤔

  • Until plans move forward for a permanent repository, the Harris Nuclear Plant’s waste will sit on-site, at the bottom of a pool that’s 40-feet deep.
  • For question-asker Billy Cummings, the first step to solving the problem is moving away from nuclear energy.
    • “First, we need to stop producing nuclear waste because…we don’t have any viable solution for it,” Cummings said.
  • It doesn’t look like we’re going to stop anytime soon. In 2017, North Carolina used nuclear energy to generate around one-third of its electricity.
Want to learn more about nuclear waste in Chatham? 

Read Chloe’s full story on

Have more questions about nuclear waste in Chatham County? We base our journalism on reader questions, so send them our way if you would like to inspire further reporting!

At Monday night’s Pittsboro Board of Commissioners meeting, changes were requested to Chatham Park’s tree coverage element.

  • Talks about the development’s plan to protect trees once again dominated the agenda without a resolution being voted on. 
  • Multiple commissioners expressed frustration over unclear language in the element that they said is difficult to understand.
  • The board asked Chatham Park to consider the requests made by the board Monday night and to come back with a revised draft in a couple of weeks.

What does the board want changed? Here’s a quick breakdown: 

  • The addition of language establishing a minimum height for canopy trees at full maturity
  • The addition of language establishing a minimum height for understory trees at full maturity and an increase in understory caliper. 
  • The addition of an appendix listing types of canopy trees and a reference to the North Carolina Forest Service’s pocket manual on common forest trees in North Carolina. 
  • The rewording of the definition of a tree coverage planning area (TCPA) 
  • The addition of language pertaining to specimen tree replacement 
  • Understory tree credit to be changed back to original agreement 
  • Consideration of local growers/nurseries 
Want clarification on the requested changes? 

Read Brennan’s full notes on

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