Cindi Ross Scoppe

Santee Cooper still has a chance to cut the cost of failed nuclear project

AT FIRST GLANCE, it would seem that any hope of South Carolina retaining potentially valuable licenses to operate two nuclear reactors evaporated on Thursday.

As Avery Wilks reports, SCANA officially notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday that it is giving up its licenses to operate the now-abandoned nuclear reactors at the VC Summer plant (With $400 million at stake, can SCE&G, Santee Cooper agree on fate of VC Summer site?).

But that’s not the end of the story.

SCE&G, you might recall, wants to give up the licenses in order to satisfy the IRS that it truly has abandoned the project, and thus deserves a tax credit, which SCANA says will be worth $400 million more in 2017 than after the new tax law takes effect on Jan. 1.

It offered to give the reactors and operating licenses to junior partner Santee Cooper. But Santee Cooper has balked at having to pay to maintain the equipment at the site, and has insisted it needs more time to evaluate the conditions SCANA put on the offer.

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Cindi Ross Scoppe

Some of the conditions are worrisome, but the fact is that it will be impossible to ever complete the reactors without those licenses, and even if Santee Cooper doesn’t want to pursue that, it’s quite possible that at some point some utilities will again want to try nuclear, and those licenses could be worth a lot of money.

That means those licenses are the most valuable thing the utilities have to show for the $9 billion they have sunk into the now-abandoned reactors. And Thursday’s announcement seems to shut the door to ever getting any value out of them.

But then there’s this final sentence in SCANA’s news release: “If, prior to the NRC approval of this request to withdraw the COLs, Santee Cooper chooses to seek to become the sole licensee for the project, SCE&G will support an application to the NRC to transfer the licenses to Santee Cooper.”

NRC spokesman Roger Hannah told me Friday that since the agency just received SCANA’s notification, it has “no timetable” yet for how long it will take to act.

Here’s a link to the column I wrote explaining why South Carolina needs those licenses, along with some other columns you might want to read about the abandoned nuclear reactors:

Santee Cooper’s next decision could cut cost of SC nuclear debacle — or not

SC nuclear debacle, by the numbers

SC nuclear debacle: an updated timeline

If SCE&G customers get refunds, it’ll be thanks to these 8 words

How much worse was the original Bechtel nuclear report?

How ‘waste not, want not’ became ‘spend more, profit more’

SCE&G nuclear fiasco: It’s complicated. Here are some explanations.

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Ms. Scoppe can be reached

at cscoppe@thestate.com

or at (803) 771-8571.

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