SCE&G faces a $3,200 state fine for letting poorly treated sewage drain from its V.C. Summer Nuclear Station site into a creek that flows into the Broad River, a waterway popular with recreational boaters and fishermen.
State records show the utility discharged waste water with bacteria levels 13 times higher than the standard for safe swimming. The release occurred in March, about the same time people began to ramp up their use of rivers as the weather warmed.
Elevated bacteria levels in creeks and rivers can make people sick. In this case, state regulators found high levels of the E. coli bacteria.
“Anytime we have violations of waste-water discharge limits, there’s always a chance it is going to impact somebody downstream,’’ said Bill Stangler, riverkeeper for the Broad, Congaree and lower Saluda rivers. “It certainly is important to pay attention to.’’
The Broad River flows from South Carolina’s Upstate past the V.C. Summer plant at Jenkinsville in Fairfield County, before merging with the lower Saluda River to form the Congaree River in Columbia.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control hit SCE&G with the fine in August for violating its federal discharge permit. The agency made the sanctions public last week.
DHEC’s action against SCE&G comes as public attention already is focused on SCE&G and its parent corporation, SCANA. The utility’s failure to complete two reactors to complement an existing reactor at V.C. Summer has enraged SCE&G ratepayers who were charged $1.7 billion for a plant that won’t be finished.
The DHEC fine is one of several issues the existing nuclear plant has had to deal with this year.
V.C. Summer’s 35-year-old reactor shut down twice this past summer after equipment didn’t work properly, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Neither shutdown was considered serious nor a safety hazard, but the company was required by law to report the incidents. By design, nuclear plants will shut down automatically when certain equipment doesn’t work, a safety measure to prevent larger problems, NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said.
SCE&G said the waste-water release and another one in January were isolated problems. The company says it now has a new waste-water treatment plant. The problems occurred with the operation of its long-standing plant, the company said.
“Earlier this year, we had a couple of instances where samples taken during routine monitoring of discharges from a company-operated waste-water treatment facility in Fairfield County exceeded effluent limitations for E. coli,’’ spokesman Eric Boomhower said in an email. “In May, we upgraded to a larger, more advanced facility, and we have had no problems since then.”