S.C. nuclear industry jobs cited

The nuclear industry is responsible for more than 28,000 jobs in South Carolina - a bigger impact than BMW, according to a new study by Clemson University researchers.

Economists Mark Henry and David Barkley and other researchers prepared the estimates for the Carolinas Nuclear Cluster, a group of companies organized through the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness, an economic development group.

The researchers found the nuclear industry directly responsible for 14,986 jobs in South Carolina and indirectly for 13,088 more jobs.

The 28,074 total is slightly more than the 23,050 direct and indirect jobs attributed to BMW and its supplier network in a previously released study by researchers at the University of South Carolina.

The nuclear industry is "a big part of the state economy," said Henry, professor emeritus of applied economics at Clemson.

The jobs total includes employment at South Carolina's four commercial nuclear plants, including Duke Energy's three-reactor plant in Oconee County, as well as the Department of Energy's huge Savannah River Site, a former nuclear bomb plant near Aiken.

It doesn't include, however, jobs at engineering and construction companies such as Fluor Corp. and its Greenville campus that are supported by nuclear work outside the Carolinas, Henry said.

Also, he said, the calculations were made before the federal government allotted $1.6 billion in economic stimulus money to create temporary jobs at SRS.

In North Carolina, the nuclear industry is directly responsible for 3,822 jobs and indirectly for 5,434 more jobs, the researchers estimated using software modeling.

South Carolina will get 12,400 more permanent jobs if nuclear plants on the drawing board are built, the researchers said, citing an earlier study by Oxford Economics.

Power companies plan four more reactors - two in Cherokee County and two in Fairfield County - on top of the seven they already operate in South Carolina. Two other reactors are planned just over the state line in the Augusta area.

Sara Barczak, program director for the anti-nuclear Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the study doesn't take into account one cost of the nuclear industry for average people: special charges that South Carolinians pay on their electricity bills to cover the financing costs of planned nuclear plants.

Lawmakers in 2007 gave power companies the authority to build into their rates financing costs for future nuclear plants, even though the federal government has yet to approve permits for the plants.

"Regular people in South Carolina are paying for these things in advance - whether they ever get built or not," Barczak said.

While Duke Energy hasn't triggered the provision to cover any costs for its planned plant in Cherokee County, SCE&G recently boosted rates to help pay for site preparation work for its proposed plant in Fairfield County, said Dukes Scott, executive director of the state Office of Regulatory Staff, the agency charged with protecting consumer interests in utility matters.

As a result, SCE&G's 561,000 residential customers in the Midlands and the Lowcountry now pay $118.79 a month for 1,000 kilowatt hours - $1.42 more than before, Scott said.

It's not the first time, however, that power companies have been allowed to recover costs for nonexistent nuclear plants.

In the 1980s, the state Public Service Commission allowed power companies to do that for plants they never finished building, Scott said.