The South Carolina Public Service Commission(or PSC) on Wednesday began a hearing on a request by South Carolina Electric & Gas for cost and schedule changes to its new two-unit nuclear reactor project in Jenkinsville, approximately 25 miles north of Columbia.
Representatives of environmental group Friends of the Earth were allowed cross examination, and focused on potential cost increases, as well as the design of the proposed Westinghouse AP1000 reactor chosen by SCE&G. Friends of the Earth Southeast Nuclear Campaign Coordinator Tom Clements says the design is flawed and has not been demonstrated to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and airplane crashes.
SCE&G Vice President Steve Byrne says the new reactor’s design is good, complete with simple safety features. He says the design was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2006, but there were changes made since then by the Commission.
Clements says the design issue will cause major delays and his group wants the problems on the record.
“The NRC certified this design several years ago, but that doesn’t mean that it’s licensed,” said Clements. “They just certified the concept. Now we’re getting into the details of the reactor. On October 15th the NRC put out a statement that there were flaws in the containment building as Westinghouse had designed it. And their review is over with, meaning that the NRC has not excepted the design.”
“Obviously we all want these plants to be capable of withstanding aircraft impact,” said Byrne. “And Westinghouse uses a design which has been approved in other countries, but there hasn’t been a code in the United States for that. So absence a code, you have to prove by testing or analysis that it will do what it is intended to do. We will get to that point. It’s just that Westinghouse has not yet supplied all the information to the Public Service Commission reviewers.”
Clements also said the potential construction cost has increased $561 million so far this year, bringing SCE&G’s share of the project to $6.9 billion.
“We think this is a real indication, as we pointed out during the project hearing last December, of spiraling costs setting in,” said Clements, “which means it’s going to cost the rate payer of South Carolina much more than SCE&G has stated. We believe this is a blank check being given by the PSC to SCE&G and that’s why we’re challenging it before the South Carolina Supreme Court.”
Byrne says the cost of the units have not changed since the 2007 negotiated price: “And depending on the inflation factor you use, it could be the same, more, or less. The inflation factor we chose to use just happened to show the plant coming in a little bit higher. We believe that inflation factor will correct itself, because it’s a lagging indicator. We all know what has happened to the economy over the last couple of years. So we’re really seeing prices reflected from three to five years ago.”
SCE&G Construction Manager Alan Torres testified that the plant design is 77 percent complete and some major parts have already been manufactured. Torres said that 17 of 25 purchase orders for the facility have already been issued, in order to purchase materials at a lower price. Torres said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows pre-construction of facility sites and components.
Friends of the Earth attorney Bob Guild argued that too much construction has taken place before SCE&G has received a final permit for construction. Guild disagreed about the line between pre-construction and construction, and he questioned Torres on what would happen with the expensive plant parts already produced if the utility doesn’t receive its final construction permit. Torres said that the utility can sell unused components. But Guild brought up the subject of Duke Energy’s uncompleted nuclear facility in Cherokee County. That uncompleted shell of a nuclear facility near Gaffney was used in the filming of the award-winning science fiction film “The Abyss,” and was finally torn down.
Listen to PSC testimony here–Torres & Guild (3.5 min.)