Equipment destined for SCE&G’s nuclear site went to China instead; now, utility wants its millions back

SCE&G and VC Summer: By the numbers

Timeline of the effort by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Westinghouse to build two more reactors at VC Summer nuclear station in Fairfield County
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Timeline of the effort by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Westinghouse to build two more reactors at VC Summer nuclear station in Fairfield County

As SCE&G tried to complete an increasingly costly nuclear expansion project last year, it learned that a major piece of equipment needed for the project would be shipped to China for a new nuclear power reactor in that country instead of the S.C. utility’s construction site in Fairfield County.

SCE&G’s chief contractor at the Fairfield County site, Westinghouse, also was involved in the Chinese project, but it promised the S.C. utility it would replace the equipment, a reactor coolant pump, that was diverted to China. Before Westinghouse could do so, however, SCE&G abandoned construction of two new reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear site as costs spiraled out of control.

Now, SCE&G wants its money back.

The utility’s push to recoup the $14.5 million is part of an effort by SCE&G to defray costs of the Summer project, which SCE&G and its junior partner, the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, abandoned July 31 after spending $9 billion over a decade of work.

As it tries to get its money back for the coolant pump, SCE&G also is negotiating to sell millions of dollars in equipment intended for the V.C. Summer expansion to Georgia Power Co., which is building its own nuclear reactor project.

It is unknown how much money Cayce-headquartered SCE&G ultimately will get for that now-unneeded equipment or what impact those sales could have in lowering the electricity bills for the utility’s customers, who still are paying an average of $27 a month for the bungled reactor project at Jenkinsville. Santee Cooper, the state-owned utility, also has expressed reservations about selling nuclear parts until questions about the site’s future are resolved.

But SCE&G, heavily criticized for mismanaging the project, says any money the company can recoup would be a plus for its customers.

The money “would be used to offset project-related costs to customers,’’ SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said. Santee Cooper, SCE&G’s junior partner in the V.C. Summer project, would receive some of the money, Boomhower said in an email.

Selling parts to Georgia Power?

Records show SCE&G now is weighing overtures by Georgia Power to buy some parts from the V.C. Summer site. Georgia Power expressed interest in the equipment for its Vogtle nuclear construction effort in a Dec. 31 letter to SCE&G from a division of the Georgia company.

Overall, equipment at the V.C. Summer site at one time was worth potentially billions of dollars, but it has a limited resale market. Much of the equipment only can be used at nuclear construction sites in China and Georgia, where Georgia Power is expanding its Vogtle nuclear site. Those nuclear reactor projects are of the same design as the shuttered V.C. Summer project.

The coolant pump that Westinghouse diverted to China is for the Haiyang project in that country. Westinghouse was involved with that project, as well. The company declined comment when asked about the coolant pump it shipped to China.

Boomhower said SCE&G signed a letter of intent to sell equipment to Georgia Power in December, although the deal is not yet final. Two of the components that could be sold to Georgia Power are reactor coolant pumps, Boomhower said.

If those pumps are comparable to the one that Westinghouse sent to the Chinese, they could bring in $29 million for SCE&G, according to the state Office of Regulatory Staff. Coolant pumps, massive pieces of equipment that can weigh more than 100 tons, circulate coolant through reactor cores to remove heat that builds up.

Other material that could be sold to Georgia Power includes steel rods used to reinforce concrete and main steam isolation valves, according to the Office of Regulatory Staff. SCE&G would sell a small amount of nuclear-related equipment to Georgia Power, according to a Jan. 12 letter from Regulatory Staff counsel Jenny Pittman to the S.C. Public Service Commission.

That equipment is either at the V.C. Summer site or in off-site warehouses. Some of the equipment has been covered by tents on the property, while large nuclear parts remain exposed in the open, said Tom Clements, an anti-nuclear activist who has examined aerial photographs of the site.

“On Dec. 21, Georgia Power contacted SCE&G to inquire whether the company would be willing to sell certain components from the abandoned construction site,’’ Boomhower said in an email. “SCE&G and Santee Cooper are in discussions with Georgia Power regarding that request; details of the transaction have not been finalized, and the company has no plans to sell components to any other entity.’’

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft was noncommittal about buying the V.C. Summer equipment. “We continue to explore options that could potentially benefit future operations of the new Vogtle units.’’

‘Small compared to the billions ... spent’

Officials with the state Office of Regulatory Staff said they are aware of the possible sales to Georgia Power. But they are skeptical SCE&G will be able to recoup enough money from its efforts to make a major dent in the overall V.C. Summer project cost.

“It is small compared to the billions of dollars that have been spent, but it will all help,’’ said Ryder Thompson, who heads the nuclear division at the state Office of Regulatory Staff.

State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said SCE&G officials have told lawmakers they would try to sell equipment. But he questioned how any sales would affect Santee Cooper.

SCE&G and Santee Cooper are odds over the V.C. Summer site’s future.

SCE&G formally has sought to abandon the project so it can get a hefty tax break. But Santee Cooper has expressed interest in restarting the project one day. The state-owned utility has asked for time to decide whether it would maintain the site and whether it would take possession of nuclear operating licenses that SCE&G has proposed to surrender.

Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore also said it is unclear who owns all the equipment, which complicates matters.

“We are trying to work through this now,’’ Gore said. “SCANA’s abandonment of the project did put some uncertainty about the ownership. There is uncertainty about this, and we are taking our time on it.’’