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‘Danger could be catastrophic’: Land sale stokes fear near Lake Wylie nuclear plant

This screenshot from Google Maps shows the Concord Peninsula on Lake Wylie. Several of the nearly 300 residents living here have expressed concern that a Duke Energy land sale would lead to development and a massive population boom near Catawba Nuclear Station.
This screenshot from Google Maps shows the Concord Peninsula on Lake Wylie. Several of the nearly 300 residents living here have expressed concern that a Duke Energy land sale would lead to development and a massive population boom near Catawba Nuclear Station. dthackham@heraldonline.com

In the event of a catastrophic event, residents on Concord Peninsula in Lake Wylie say they would need to drive within 2,500 feet of Catawba Nuclear Station to escape serious danger coming from the plant.

They say they’re scared of gaining up to 2,000 new neighbors that could exacerbate the problem.

“In the event of a terror incident, would they need to secure the bridge and trap people on the peninsula?” said Don Clarke, a leader with a concerned citizens group Catawba Nuclear Neighbors. “How big of a population of people do you want to isolate on that side of the bridge?”

Background

Duke Energy announced earlier this year its intention to sell 348 acres in the Concord Road area along Lake Wylie.

The land, which sits below the Catawba Nuclear Station, was originally purchased before construction to support the nuclear plant, but has not yet been developed.

The property is zoned Residential Development District II (RD-II), which means a developer can build single-family and multi-family homes, including apartments and condominiums.

Clarke and his friend Mark Sleeper formed Catawba Nuclear Neighbors (CNN) a decade ago, when Duke Energy first attempted to sell the land. However, Duke delayed the sale so it could be considered by stakeholders as part of the Catawba-Wateree hydro relicensing process.

The problem

Concerned residents of the peninsula flooded into a York County Council meeting last month to decry the sale, saying any development of the land might lead to a 10-fold increase in residents on the banks of Lake Wylie.

There are about 110 homes on the peninsula now, all of which predate the Catawba Nuclear Station, according to Clarke. He estimates there are about 250-300 people living in the area.

Clarke and Sleeper worry that if a developer chooses to create condominiums or low-density housing, it could open the door for another 2,000 residents.

“The danger could be catastrophic,” Sleeper said. “Whether it’s a nuclear emergency or a hurricane, and there’s thousands trying to get off the peninsula, it could be Fukushima all over again.”

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster at a power plant in Fukushima, Japan, began when a tsunami and an earthquake both hit the area in 2011.

Should a similar catastrophe strike York County, residents of the peninsula would need to cross a two-lane bridge on Concord Road to leave. At one point, they would need to pass as close as 2,500 feet to the nuclear reactors at the Catawba Nuclear Station.

In the event of such an incident, Concord Peninsula residents may be instructed to shelter in their homes for their own safety, according to York County Emergency Management Director Chuck Haynes.

Haynes said the county, state and federal officials would all be quickly informed in the event of a serious incident at the station that would involve either evacuation or the safety of York County residents.

His team is updating a report which would determine how quickly an evacuation of the 10-mile radius around the nuclear station might take. That report will be finished at some time in September.

One estimate by the nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility finds that 146,800 people within 10 miles of the Catawba Nuclear Station would need to be evacuated in the event of a worst-case disaster reminiscent of Fukushima. That number stretches to 2.1 million people within 50 miles of the station.

The future

Duke Energy said Thursday it has been engaging with the neighbors through a variety of venues, including verbal communication and letters.

Spokesperson Sara Collins told The Herald Duke Energy is committed to keeping an open dialogue with the neighbors, and said safety is always the priority.

“Our job and focus every day is to operate Catawba Nuclear Station safely, as we have been doing for more than 30 years,” Collins said. “And we have comprehensive emergency plans that are regularly practiced in coordination with local, state and federal agencies, including those agencies responsible for evacuation.”

The CNN group has offered its solution, which it calls a fair compromise: Sell the lots closest to the waterfront, but allow the interior acres to be run by a land trust or conservancy group.

This option would allow plenty of space to exist between the station and the current population, while allowing Duke Energy to earn a majority of the profits from the high-priced lots, Sleeper said.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “They get the tax credits associated with that, and we get low-density.”

York County Council member Allison Love, who represents the area, says county leaders will be able to use “a toolbox” of tactics to ensure that any development on the land would be limited.

“I think the residents are concerned and that concern is multiplied when you bring up this sale,” Love said. “It opens up a whole new can of worms with all of the people that could be there. The safety of the people who live near the nuclear plant is all at stake.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

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