State Sen. Harvey Peeler said Tuesday he’s concerned Duke Energy will end plans for its proposed W.S. Lee Nuclear Station project, just as it did 35 years ago with the Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant project.
“We’ve seen this movie before, and I’m not talking about ‘The Abyss,’” Peeler said, referring to James Cameron’s 1989 movie, which used the power plant site for filming. “It looks like they’re going to pull the plug again.”
Two weeks ago, Peeler wrote to Duke Energy asking whether it still plans to build two reactors at the 2,000-acre Lee site along the Broad River south of Gaffney in Cherokee County. The project was first proposed 10 years ago and expected to create more than 1,000 jobs.
He also asked if Duke intends to recover its costs from South Carolina customers. Duke said it has spent $500 million to date.
“I do not think Duke Energy has ever fully committed to its actual construction,” Peeler wrote to Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke’s S.C. president, on Aug. 2. Peeler’s district includes the Lee site.
Peeler raised his concerns after SCANA Corp.’s July 31 announcement that S.C. Electric & Gas and partner Santee Cooper had abandoned construction of two nuclear reactors at V.C. Summer in Fairfield County after cost overruns and the bankruptcy filing of its plant designer, Westinghouse.
Ghartey-Tagoe responded to Peeler Aug. 9, restating the company’s position that “nuclear energy is an important component of Duke Energy’s generation portfolio and has served our Carolinas customers well for nearly half a century.
“Like our industry peers, Duke Energy is closely following the V.C. Summer and Westinghouse developments,” he stated. “We are watching with much interest, as the Westinghouse design is the same technology we chose for the proposed Lee nuclear project in Cherokee County.”
Last December, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a co-operating license for both reactors at Lee.
“There is a significant difference between pursuing a (license) for nuclear units and actually moving forward with construction,” Ghartey-Tagoe wrote. “We have not made a final decision about moving forward with the project at this time.”
Peeler said Tuesday he appreciates Duke’s timely response.
“Duke customers deserve to know decisions on the Lee project are being handled with the utmost accountability and responsibility,” Peeler said.
However he said the sooner Duke makes a decision about Lee, the better.
“If Duke is sincere about a nuclear plant, why don’t they purchase the Summer plant for pennies on the dollar,” he said. “It would free up hundreds of acres in Cherokee for all the recreational opportunities along the Broad River.”
Duke Energy spokesman Ryan Mosier declined to comment on Peeler’s remarks.
Duke started building the three-reactor Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant in the early 1970s at the site, but the project stalled and in 1983, after one unit was partially built, Duke scrapped plans for all units.
Nearly 25 years later, in December 2007, Duke Energy applied for licenses with the NRC to build the two-unit nuclear Lee Nuclear Station. In 2008, Duke estimated the project would cost $11 billion. To date, there has been no construction.