A nuclear plant near North Carolina's capital city was shut down after operators reviewing ultrasonic tests from last year found the results showed tiny marks of corrosion and cracking that need repair, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
Operators at the Shearon Harris plant on Wednesday found a quarter-inch flaw in the covering of the reactor vessel, which contains superheated steam produced by the nuclear reaction's energy.
The crack did not penetrate the vessel head and there is no evidence of radiation leakage, an NRC incident report said. The discovery did not affect the health and safety of employees or the public at the New Hill plant, federal regulators said.
NRC inspectors will want to ask plant owner Duke Energy Corp. — which acquired the 26-year-old plant through its buyout last year of Progress Energy — why the testing performed during a spring refueling outage last year didn't find the problem, agency spokesman Roger Hannah said Thursday.
"I think that's a question, from our perspective, that we'd like to have answered," Hannah said. "We'll follow up on that to see if it was something that should have been seen."
Spokesmen for Charlotte-based Duke Energy said it would evaluate why the problem was missed last year. Data from last year's test were being reviewed ahead of an upcoming planned refueling outage.
"During refueling outages, we collect and analyze a lot of plant data," spokeswoman Rita Sipe said in an email. "The reactor is shut down and our repair plans are in progress."
She said Duke has reserves that can meet customers' needs during the shutdown.
The company expects to have the unit back online within a matter of weeks, Duke Energy said Thursday in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The "minor repairs in a nozzle that penetrates the top of the reactor vessel" has been performed successfully at other nuclear reactors around the world, the company said.
The reactor vessel head is commonly checked because the metal is "subject to very high pressure and very high temperatures over a long period of time," Hannah said.
The shutdown comes days before the Harris plant's annual assessment meeting, at which NRC staffers discuss plant operations with the public. The meeting is Monday in nearby Holly Springs.
Progress Energy was cited last year for two safety violations considered to be of low to moderate significance, which Hannah said have since been corrected. Regulators found problems with ventilation systems that would be needed if there were a nuclear emergency.
Since the two North Carolina utilities merged to make Duke Energy the country's largest electric company, the Charlotte-based company has cut back on plans for Progress Energy nuclear plants.
Duke said earlier this month that it will not build two new reactors at Shearon Harris, reversing plans put in place by Progress Energy executives.
In February, Duke Energy said it will permanently close the Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida after botched repairs while it was operated by Progress Energy Florida. Estimates for repairing the nuclear plant shut down since 2009 were between $1.3 billion and $3.4 billion.
Duke Energy Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Rogers told North Carolina regulators last year that former Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson was dumped within hours of becoming CEO of the merged company in part because of dissatisfaction over his handling of Crystal River's problems. Johnson is now CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Federal prosecutors in the upcoming racketeering trial of Massachusetts' reputed gangster Whitey Bulger (BUHL'-jur) want to do criminal background checks on potential jurors.
In a court filing Thursday, prosecutors cited the case of convicted killer Gary Sampson, who was sentenced to death for carjacking and killing two Massachusetts men and was also convicted of killing a New Hampshire man during a 2001 crime spree. Sampson's sentence was set aside by a judge who found that one juror repeatedly answered questions about her life dishonestly.
Prosecutors said conducting background checks will help determine whether potential jurors have truthfully answered questionnaires and minimize the chance of a mistrial.
The former leader of the Winter Hill Gang is scheduled to go on trial next month. An indictment accuses him of participating in 19 murders.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has announced plans to use $300 million in federal funding to buy out homeowners whose properties have flooded repeatedly, especially during Superstorm Sandy.
Christie announced the buyout plan Thursday, just before appearing in Sayreville, where about 270 homes were destroyed or severely damaged by a tidal surge during Sandy.
Some of those homeowners have expressed a willingness to sell.
The buyout program begins in July with about 300 eligible properties in Sayreville and neighboring South River. Eventually, 1,000 homes will be bought.
The state will raze homes that are bought and preserve the land as wetlands.
Sayreville is one of the communities frequently mentioned as a good candidate for the buyouts.
Prosecutors announced Thursday they won't file charges against loggers whose equipment apparently started a massive wildfire in northwestern Wisconsin, concluding there was no criminal intent or negligence.
The fire began Tuesday afternoon in the woods near Simms Lake in Douglas County, about 40 miles southeast of Duluth, Minn. It consumed 8,131 acres, destroyed 17 homes and forced dozens of people to evacuate before firefighters contained it late Wednesday evening. No injuries have been reported.
The state Department of Natural Resources released a statement Thursday saying logging equipment started the fire.
A logger was operating a large machine similar to an end loader with a circular saw that cuts groups of trees, DNR Fire Law Enforcement Specialist Gary Bibow said. The operator noticed smoke coming out from under the cutting head, jumped out of the cab and saw the grass under the machine was burning.
The operator nearly had extinguished the fire when it leaped 40 yards into the trees and raced out of control, Bibow said.
"He thought he had it out and it took off," Bibow said. "It climbed into the top of the trees."
Another member of the logger's crew immediately called 911, according to the DNR's statement.
It's still unclear whether the machine caught fire or created sparks as it was cutting, DNR spokeswoman Catherine Koele said. Neither she nor Bibow knew the name of the loggers' company.
The DNR said in its statement that Douglas County prosecutors had decided there was no criminal intent or negligence and they had declined to issue any charges. A message left at the Douglas County district attorney's office late Thursday afternoon wasn't immediately returned.
"It was an act of God, if you will," Koele said.
The fire was one of the worst to strike northern Wisconsin in three decades.
Firefighters from nearly 40 departments battled the blaze. The National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters Wednesday to help, and two Canadian waterbombers, which are fixed-wing aircraft, also helped ground crews, according to the DNR. At least 60 people had to evacuate. About 20 spent Tuesday night in a Red Cross shelter in a high school.
Authorities told retired police officer Bob Gotelaere to evacuate on Tuesday, but he decided to return home to save antique guns from his grandfather and his daughter's needlepoint work. He and a friend threaded their way along the back roads to reach the house on Ellison Lake.
Then the wind shifted. The fire came roaring toward them in a soup of orange smoke.
"There were flames all around the house. The embers were coming down in the yard. You couldn't see because of the smoke. (His friend) was screaming at me, 'we've got to go, we've got to go,'" the 67-year-old Gotelaere said. "It was unreal."
They barely made it out, Gotelaere said by phone Thursday. He spent the night with his friend and made his way back to his property Wednesday, fully expecting to find his house reduced to ashes. He discovered the fire had taken his brother-in-law's seasonal mobile home across the street as well as his own outhouse.
Somehow, though, the fire spared the house.
"I expected to find nothing," he said. "I just looked and couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it."
And he learned a lesson: Get out and stay out.
"You'd think I'd know better," he said. "It was really dumb. The good lord was watching me, I'll tell you that."
Firefighters had shifted into mop-up mode by Thursday morning, checking the blackened landscape for hot spots.
Gov. Scott Walker toured the area by air Thursday afternoon and later released a statement saying state agencies stand ready to help fire victims, including providing money for temporary housing and offering assistance filling out insurance claims. He also has declared a state of emergency in Douglas and Bayfield counties, which makes the Wisconsin National Guard available for recovery efforts.
"To the victims of this fire, I want you to know the state of Wisconsin stands with you," Walker said in the statement.
The DNR initially estimated the fire had consumed nearly 9,000 acres but revised the figures downward Thursday after completing more detailed mapping of the blaze.
The last major forest fire in northern Wisconsin happened on April 22, 1980, and consumed nearly 11,500 acres of forest. A central Wisconsin fire in May 2005 burned more than 3,400 acres.
U.S. authorities in Idaho said Thursday they have arrested an Uzbekistan national on federal terrorism charges.
Federal prosecutors said Fazliddin Kurbanov, 30, was arrested in Boise on Thursday after a grand jury issued a three-count indictment as part of a terrorism investigation.
The indictment charges Kurbanov with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. The indictment also alleges he possessed an unregistered explosive device.
A separate federal grand jury in Utah also returned an indictment charging Kurbanov with distributing information about explosives, bombs and weapons of mass destruction.
He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Boise at 9 a.m. Friday.
The Idaho indictment alleges that between August 2012 and May 2013, Kurbanov knowingly conspired with others to provide support and resources, including computer software and money, to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a designated terrorist organization.
The alleged co-conspirators were not named.
In count two, the indictment alleges Kurbanov provided material support to terrorists, knowing that the help was to be used in preparation for a plot involving the use of a weapon of mass destruction.
The indictment also alleges that on Nov. 15, 2012, Kurbanov possessed an explosive device, consisting of a series of parts intended to be converted into a bomb. Those parts included a hollow hand grenade, a hobby fuse, aluminum powder, potassium nitrate and sulfur.
A remote Alaska volcano continues to erupt, spewing lava and ash clouds.
The Alaska Volcano Observatory said Thursday a continuous cloud of ash, steam and gas from Pavlof Volcano has been seen 20,000 feet above sea level. The cloud was moving to the southeast Thursday.
John Power, the U.S. Geological Survey scientist in charge at the observatory, estimates the lava fountain rose several hundred feet into the air.
Onsite seismic instruments are picking up constant tremors from the eruption at Pavlof, located about 625 miles southwest of Anchorage.
Residents of Cold Bay, 37 miles away, have reported seeing a glow from the summit.
Pavlof is among the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian arc, with nearly 40 known eruptions, according to the observatory.