Duke Energy this week cleared a final hurdle before federal regulators decide whether to approve its proposed nuclear power plant in the Upstate.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Wednesday its staff has finished a safety evaluation for the proposed William States Lee plant in Cherokee County and found no safety issues to prevent it from issuing a license for the plant’s two reactors.
The move is the last step before agency staff turns Duke’s license application over to the commission for a public hearing. In the hearing, expected later this year, the Commission will examine whether the staff’s review supports the findings necessary to issue the licenses before deciding on a final vote to issue the licenses.
But it’s not clear if Duke still intends to build the plant near Gaffney. Duke operates six nuclear plants in the Carolinas, but has not built a new one since 1987. It applied for the Lee Plant in 2007, but the interest in nuclear energy has cooled since then. An increase in supply of natural gas and oil have made those energy sources cheaper. Meanwhile, two next-generation sites under construction by other utilities near Columbia and Augusta, Ga., have been snagged by delays. Both those sites are using the same AP100 design that Duke would use at Lee.
Duke Energy has said it hopes to make a decision on whether to move forward once final NRC approval comes.
The Charlotte Business Journal reported in February that the utility has already spent more than $471 million on planning costs the past nine years. Construction costs would likely total more than $12 billion.