Power loss at Catawba nuclear station sparks possible increase in inspections

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CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. —

Almost four months after a sudden power loss at the Catawba nuclear station, federal regulars are considering increasing the number of inspections there.

The April 4 incident caused a fault which safely shut down one of the station's reactors. The power loss originated outside the plant, but Duke Energy is pointing the finger at a computer programming error.

"That problem cannot happen again. It has been corrected," said Duke Energy spokeswoman Mary Kathryn Green.

However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission called the incident a safety concern, though it's not yet clear what other actions could be taken.

Green said many of the thousands of people who live around the plant would have heard air loudly venting the day of the shutdown. The company sent out about 2,000 letters to homeowners and businesses within 2 miles of the York County plant.

"We did it because they're our neighbors," Green said.

Jodie Rowland received one of those letters. She's lived in the shadow of the nuclear station for more than 20 years. The letter didn't ease her mind much.

"It's always been a worry for me that something could happen down there," she said.

However, upon hearing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may step up inspections, Rowland said that would give her more peace of mind about future issues at the plant.

"I think we would feel a lot safer knowing they're checking into it and making sure things are running," she said.

Less than a mile way, Dennis Matthies had no concerns about having the nuclear station as a neighbor.

"If I did, I wouldn't have moved here," he said.

Matthies had read and seen the news reports about the power loss in April. He's glad it's being investigated but didn't believe it was significant.

"You can never prevent everything from happening," he said. "It was a programing error. These things do happen. Everybody that has a computer realizes that."

Duke Energy officials are still reviewing the NRC's preliminary report. They told WSOC-TV that a similar power loss hasn't occurred there since 2006.

Duke officials will meet in a conference with regulators in the upcoming weeks to discuss what happened in detail.

Following that meeting, the NRC will decide what further action, if any, will be taken.