Duke adds lake to its plant proposal

Duke Energy plans to build a large, backup water supply at its Lee nuclear plant site in South Carolina, responding to worries that the proposed plant's massive water needs could overwhelm the Broad River during droughts.

The 620-acre impoundment would hold about a third as much water as Mountain Island Lake near Charlotte.

The industrial lake would supplement a smaller backup water supply that dates to Duke's initial attempt to build a nuclear plant on the Cherokee County site, halted in 1982. Duke doesn't plan to make it accessible to the public, said spokeswoman Rita Sipe.

Duke is looking for partners and has made no decision to build the plant.

Anti-nuclear forces predict water issues could make it hard for Duke to license the plant.

Once Lee and Duke's expanded Cliffside coal-fired plant farther up the Broad are running, said Tom Clements of Friends of the Earth in Columbia, "its name will have to be changed to the Skinny River, and we can't allow that to happen."

Nuclear plants can't operate without large amounts of cooling water. Unlike Duke's McGuire plant on Lake Norman and Catawba plant on Lake Wylie, Lee would not be built beside a large reservoir.

The plant would instead draw 50 million gallons a day from the Broad, which rises in North Carolina before crossing the S.C. line, Duke said in a 2007 report. About 35 million gallons would evaporate from the plant's cooling towers, with the rest returned to the Broad.

In reviving the Cherokee County site for Lee in 2006, Duke calculated that the river and an existing backup pond could keep the plant's two nuclear reactors running in all but the severest droughts.

Then the worst drought in S.C. history struck in 2007 and 2008. "It was an alarm bell for a lot of reasons," said Bob Perry of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.