Watchdog groups question future of nuclear power

Watchdog groups question future of nuclear power

Spartanburg Herald Journal
August 9, 2017

By Bob Montgomery
Staff Writer

Some nuclear watchdog groups say the recent abandonment of a multibillion dollar nuclear plant project near Columbia could signal the end of other projects, including Duke Energy’s proposed Lee Nuclear Station near Gaffney.

Duke Energy said has said it has not made a decision about the plant.

Supporters of the project, such as the Cherokee County government, remain optimistic that Duke can overcome the costly obstacles that sunk the V.C. Summer project in Jenkinsville. But opponents aren’t so sure.

“I think Duke sees the writing on the wall,” said Mary Olson, director of the Southeast region for Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

SCANA Corp. ended its V.C. Summer Nuclear Station after costs on the project ballooned from $9.8 billion 10 years ago to $25 billion today, according to some estimates.

In addition, the construction contractor, Westinghouse Electric Company, declared bankruptcy in March, leaving SCANA with few options.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear energy industry, called the abandonment of the V.C. Summer project “disappointing,” but reiterated its support for a future with nuclear power.

“One thing has not changed, and that’s the value of nuclear as a safe, reliable clean source of energy,” Maria Korsnick, president and CEO of the NEI, said in a statement. “As America’s needs for electricity continues to grow, which means hundreds of new generating facilities will need to be built, clean and reliable nuclear energy will be an essential part of America’s energy security.”

Some who follow the nuclear industry don’t agree. They note some safety concerns have not been resolved, such as how to properly dispose of radioactive waste.

“Nuclear power is failing despite the fact that it is already heavily subsidized,” said Tim Judson, executive director of NIRS, a nonprofit organization that opposes nuclear energy. “Cancelling the Summer reactors proves that the industry has no future.”

Shelley Robbins, energy and policy manager for Upstate Forever, said not only are plant costs a factor, but so are environmental concerns. In the case of the Lee Nuclear Station site, there are question about the impact on the Broad River, Robbins said.

“We would like to see significantly more utility-scale investment in energy efficiency and distributed renewables and storage,” Robbins said.

Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the 5,000-member S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said he has been trying to get state lawmakers to amend the Base Load Review Act of 2007 that allows energy providers to recoup nuclear plant construction costs from ratepayers even if projects are never built.

“We were already paying 20 percent higher bills because of the (V.C. Summer) project, and all we got was steel and concrete in the ground. People are upset,” Knapp said. “My goal will be what can we do to help the ratepayer recoup some of their lost money and put the burden on paying construction costs on the back of SCE&G.”

But Cherokee County officials remain cautiously optimistic the 10-year-old Lee project will eventually come to fruition.

“Cherokee County would be greatly benefited by the construction of a facility of this nature in both job creation as well as sustained fee stream,” said County Administrator Holland Belue. Duke has estimated the project would generate $8.5 million a year in state and local tax revenues and create 1,100 jobs.

“While Cherokee County has always supported the project, we have also remained conservative in not planning or budgeting for revenues (for a project) that’s future was relatively uncertain,” Belue said.