SC leaders upset to learn condition of nuclear project equipment
As a political firestorm rages over the suspended construction of two new nuclear reactors, SCANA has left much of the unfinished V.C. Summer project to crumble, endangering any chance the $9 billion venture eventually could be finished, S.C. senators were told Wednesday.
Cayce-based SCANA has not covered or maintained valuable equipment at the Fairfield County construction site, leaving the unfinished reactor-containment buildings exposed to the elements and in danger of deteriorating, state regulators told a Senate panel investigating the project’s July abandonment.
The revelation irked S.C. lawmakers who still hope the unfinished reactors could one day be finished and provide power to S.C. power customers. Those customers already have paid more than $2 billion in higher electricity rates for the project.
“I don’t know what we can do, but that, to me, is more of an immediate danger than anything we’ve discussed in the past three months,” said state Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, whose district includes the Jenkinsville site.
Before Wednesday, it was unclear exactly how SCANA, which owned 55 percent of the project, was preserving the V.C. Summer construction site — if at all.
SCANA and the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, which owned a 45-percent stake in the reactors, pulled the plug on the project July 31, after nine years of construction, marred by delays and cost overruns. The utilities largely have blamed the project’s failure on lead contractor Westinghouse, which declared bankruptcy in March.
Retired Santee Cooper chief executive Lonnie Carter has told lawmakers the project could be finished a decade from now, perhaps by another utility or in a different regulatory environment that makes nuclear popular again. But preserving the site could cost up to $15 million a year, including staff to periodically run certain equipment and to keep the components safe.
Those steps had not been taken when state regulators visited the V.C. Summer site last week, according to Anthony James, director of new nuclear development for the S.C. Office of Regulatory Staff.
After removing large cranes and trucks from the site, SCANA left uncovered a containment building with nuclear modules and machinery already installed inside, James said. He said SCANA officials told regulators they do not intend to spend millions of dollars preserving the unfinished reactors and their parts.
Failure to preserve the work done already “would severely impact and increase the cost for someone to restart (the reactor project) in the near term or the long term,” James told reporters afterward.
Several senators called for action to be taken quickly to preserve the unfinished reactors. But, they acknowledged, they have no authority over investor-owned SCANA.
Fanning told The State he called the governor’s office after Wednesday’s hearing to ask for Gov. Henry McMaster’s help.
“We have a state asset there – at least 45 percent of the $9 billion invested there,” Fanning said. “I don’t know how we can wait until we meet again in three weeks to allow a state asset to be further damaged.”
A spokesman said McMaster shares the senators’ concerns and has been aware of the issue since early October, when he asked the Office of Regulatory Staff to check in on the Jenkinsville site.
The governor would encourage SCANA to preserve the reactor components at V.C. Summer “for the benefit of the state,” Brian Symmes said.
SCANA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.