I recently caught a glimpse of video of the V.C. Summer nuclear plant, with its massive unfinished structure against the rural landscape. The newscaster was talking about the failed construction project, but I was transfixed by the geometric shapes of empty shells of buildings in silhouette against the S.C. sky. It reminded me of Chernobyl.
Chernobyl is one of those places that lives up to dramatic expectations. I have visited the site several times, accompanying a team of environmental and public health researchers from USC and a television crew from SCETV. The memory of the eerie, gray stillness never diminishes, and the aftermath of what happened there in April 1986 continues to provide a cautionary tale for the world.
On our first trip, we were riding down an overgrown dirt road in a small Ukrainian government van, all dressed in protective clothing.
Suddenly, we rounded a bend, and there before us loomed the huge reactor building where the world’s worst nuclear accident had occurred. Everybody on the bus got quiet.
Also spread across the landscape were abandoned buildings of other reactors. Especially memorable were several huge cranes and other large construction equipment, now rusty and dilapidated, hovering over a reactor that had been under construction when the accident occurred. This was this picture that came flooding back into my mind when I caught that glimpse on TV of unfinished buildings and construction equipment at V.C. Summer.
Of course, nothing about the debacle at V.C. Summer that threatens our health and physical well-being; there is no deadly radiation leaking out of an operation that never got close to operating. That’s not the comparison that struck me. Instead, it was the whole idea of abandonment, of irresponsibility, of lack of honesty with the public, and of leaving citizens stuck to handle the fallout, metaphorical in this case.
The Soviet government initially tried to keep the horrible extent of the nuclear accident from the world. When the ramifications eventually became known, the Soviets still tried to minimize it. This refusal to inform the public, explain failures and take responsibility for a massive endeavor gone wrong is where a comparison to V.C. Summer is most clear.
The Chernobyl accident was caused by human error and negligence, followed by an exhaustive attempt to keep damaging information from the public. The V.C. Summer plant abandonment was the result of another type of human error and negligence: the gross financial and supervisory mismanagement, for more than a decade; the attempt to keep the Bechtel report outlining this mismanagement out of the public domain; and the lack of accountability and honesty to ratepayers, regulators and other government officials — ultimately affecting the public good.
SCE&G’s quiet subterfuge in keeping its V.C. Summer secrets will have reverberations for years to come. We can only hope that somehow the abandoned Summer reactors can find new life and lose their Chernobyl-like specter.
Ms. Beasley is a Columbia educator; contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.