So your reactors are kaput. Now what?


Robert Meyerowitz for TheNerve.org

August 3, 2017

The announcement earlier this week that SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper were pulling the plug on construction of two nuclear reactors in Jenkinsville has left questions that keep multiplying.

In the run-up to the decision, one factor driving it was that the partly-completed, multi-billion-dollar project would provide more power than electricity consumers in South Carolina were likely to want.

Canceling the project, though, could lead to a shortfall.

SCE&G says it expects to make it up by building a new gas-powered plant. “At the appropriate time, we will inform the Public Service Commission of our plans to meet that need through a natural gas generation strategy.”

If the past is any guide, and there’s no change in the ground rules, it may seek to pass the cost of that, too, onto its ratepayers.

Yesterday, Santee Cooper confirmed that it will still pursue a rate increase for its residential electricity customers to cover more of its costs for the failed project, which originally was supposed to be providing power by now.

Today, Mollie Gore, Santee Cooper’s corporate communications manager, said in response to questions by email, “We don’t anticipate needing new generation for several years.”

No one wanted a reactor

Various news accounts in the latter part of the project’s nine-year life have stated that Santee Cooper tried to sell some of its stake in the project. Gore confirmed that today, stating, “Several years ago we engaged in discussions with other utilities about selling a portion of our capacity, as it became clear that the recession would have a major impact on our long-term load forecast. The discussions did not advance to sales.”

Once Santee Cooper had soured on the project, SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA, tried to find a new partner, the Charlotte Business Journal reports, “but it found no takers.”

That leaves one enormous construction site filled with partially-built reactors and materials that may never again have a value approaching their cost.

Unbuilding it could create still more significant costs. SCE&G is hoping it might be able to sell some of the site’s components to foreign companies, according to the Business Journal.

Gore said “Decisions about the site are still to be made. The [Santee Cooper] board authorized protecting and preserving it while options are evaluated, and costs for that are being finalized.”

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