South Carolina nuke plants scrapped, may return to coal

This is a depressing story from the energy sector which will have some some on the left cheering while leaving themselves looking fairly ridiculous in the process. After five years of work and $5B in investment capital, work on constructing two new nuclear power plants in South Carolina has been abandoned. The second and third reactors of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville were scheduled to begin going online beginning this year but a series of delays had pushed back the completion date by as much as seven more years. (Associated Press)

Billions of dollars spent on two new nuclear reactors in South Carolina went up in smoke Monday when the owners nixed plans to finish them after years of delays and cost overruns, dealing a severe blow to the industry’s future.

The reactors were set to be among the first built in the U.S. in decades. While the decision will save customers billions in additional costs, customers of the two utilities — Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas — may get little to nothing refunded of the billions they’ve already paid for the now-abandoned project.

“I’m disappointed today not just for Santee Cooper and its customers but for our country and the industry as a whole,” said Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter. “If you really believe we need to reduce carbon, this was the way to do it.”

This is being billed as a way to “save taxpayers money” but it’s really just minimizing the bleeding in that regard. The way the state utility regulations are crafted, consumers have already been paying in advance for the construction of the plants, with the costs accounting for roughly 18% of their electricity bills currently. And there will be more to be paid back for the project which will now apparently never be finished.

This is bad news on multiple fronts, and it’s not just the loss to consumers in the form of higher bills with no energy to show for it. It’s also yet another setback to the nuclear power industry in the Untied States. We haven’t had a new reactor come online in decades and it’s still just about the safest and cleanest form of energy we can mass produce aside from hydroelectric. (And not everyone has a massive waterfall conveniently located where the energy is needed.) Those claiming that they care about carbon emissions should be big fans because there are zero emissions from nuke plants aside from heat rolling out of the cooling towers. Even waste materials from the fuel rods are far less of a concern because advancements in that field now allow us to reuse those spent rods far more efficiently with much less waste to store.

Here’s the real kicker for the environmental wing, some of whom were fighting the construction of these plants tooth and claw. South Carolina may be bringing a previously shuttered coal plant back online to make up for the lost energy. The other option is a reconditioned natural gas plant. So… well done, guys.

More than anything else, the collapse of the V.C. Summer plants 2 and 3 project is a failure of bureaucracy and a legacy of overly ambitious government regulations which make it too costly and time consuming for investors to try to build a new plant. If you’re not constructing a project such as this directly on top of a fault line or in the path of a potential tsunami, American designed nuclear reactors are about as safe as you could ask for in the current state of this technology. And they produce massive amounts of power for decades on end without burning any type of fossil or conventional fuel. If we can’t manage to get new plants online that’s one less option in the “all of the above” basket for American energy security in the future.

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