Scana Corp. won U.S. approval to build nuclear reactors, the second construction permit issued by regulators in more than 30 years for units that may be among the nation’s last erected this decade.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission today voted 4-1 to approve the Cayce, South Carolina, company’s plan to construct and operate two units at its Virgil C. Summer plant, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) northwest of Columbia. Chairman Gregory Jaczko dissented, citing pending safety rules in response to the Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster in Japan last year.
“I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating,” Jaczko said in his vote.
Scana, which submitted its application to the NRC in March 2008, will pay 55 percent of the estimated $10.2 billion cost of the project. Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s largest power producer, is responsible for the remainder.
The NRC will require the companies to inspect and test valve systems and develop strategies to respond to natural disasters that may cause a loss of power, the agency said in a statement. The NRC also is requiring that Scana and Santee Cooper comply with an order, issued last month in response to Fukushima, to have reliable instruments to monitor cooling pools for spent fuel.
The reactors are among five units that may be built in the U.S. before 2020, as a glut of natural gas has discouraged investment in other types of generation, including nuclear power. Scana’s first unit won’t be operational until 2017, about a year behind schedule, because of delays in the NRC’s licensing process, the company said yesterday in a statement.
Scana executives were headed today to the NRC’s offices to pick up the new licenses, and crews are poised to begin work on the nuclear portions of the site tomorrow, Kevin Marsh, Scana’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a phone interview.
“I think it’s great for the state of South Carolina,” Marsh said about the NRC vote. “We look forward to building these two new nuclear units to enhance our ability to meet the energy needs of our customers.”
Southern Co. on Feb. 9 won U.S. approval to build two reactors at its Vogtle plant near Augusta, Georgia, becoming the first company to receive an NRC construction permit since 1978. The Atlanta-based company expects the first unit to be in service by 2016, with the second a year later.
A 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, slowed development of U.S. nuclear power, which accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. The Tennessee Valley Authority is reviewing its timeline for completing work on a reactor it stopped building in 1988, Michael Bradley, a TVA spokesman, said in an e-mail.
The five reactors will provide an additional 5,600 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity on the Southeast’s electricity grid by the end of the decade, Marvin Fertel, chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, said in a statement. “That’s reliable, low-carbon electricity for about 10 cities the size of Columbia.”
Scana fell 4 cents to $45.61 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange trading. The shares have gained 16 percent in the past year.
Scana and Southern plan to build AP1000 reactors designed by Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric Co. Scana’s second unit will be operational by 2018, a year ahead of schedule, under an agreement with project managers Westinghouse of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and Shaw Group Inc. of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to the utility.
“Many safety issues remain concerning the AP1000 design,” Tom Clements, non-proliferation policy director for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, said in a statement. “It is very vulnerable in the face of an earthquake, which could destroy the cooling system.”
The NRC is weighing rules to improve the safety of U.S. reactors after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered a triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. Jaczko also opposed approval of Southern’s license, stating that the commission should have required the company to adhere to lessons from Fukushima.
The NRC on March 9 approved three orders in response to the disaster, including a requirement for reactor owners to have in place by 2016 sufficient emergency equipment to survive a power failure.
‘Should be Consistencies’
While Scana is required to comply with the order for spent-fuel pools, the commission has now approved permits for reactors with different sets of safety standards, Jaczko said in an interview following today’s vote.
“There should be consistencies” with these licenses, he said. A requirement for new licenses to comply with all Fukushima-related rules would ensure this outcome, he said.
The NRC’s examination of safety conditions at plants may delay its review of license applications for reactors, including two units Progress Energy Inc. has proposed to build in Levy County, Florida, Jaczko said in his vote.
Progress was notified by the agency “a couple weeks ago” that it faced additional review, including seismic analysis, for its proposal to build AP1000 reactors, said Mike Hughes, a spokesman for the Raleigh, North Carolina-based company.
“We don’t yet know what the impact the request and additional analysis will have on the schedule,” Hughes said in an e-mail.
Progress, which is merging with Duke Energy Corp., hasn’t made a final decision on whether to build the reactors, whose licenses are furthest along in the NRC’s review process. The earliest the units would become operational is 2021, Hughes said.