Duke Awarded Licenses For Two AP-1000 Reactors In South Carolina

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday that it had issued two Combined Licenses for Duke Energy Carolinas' two-reactor project proposed for a site near Gaffney, South Carolina, but the fate of the project remains far from certain.

AP-1000Duke submitted the application for the William States Lee site in 2006. A lot has happened since then, including the Great Recession that curtailed growth demand, the sudden upsurge in natural gas production due to modern hydro-fracking techniques, the growing awareness and urgency of global warming, the federal government's increasing support for wind and solar power generation, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster and the election of Donald Trump, a climate-change naysayer, who says he is pro oil and that he will be supportive of nuclear power.

Following the NRC's announcement, Duke, which has reportedly spent $495 million in pre-construction costs to prepare for the project, said the company “continues to regard new nuclear as a viable option for future generation and understands the importance of fuel diversity in creating a sustainable energy future.”

“We evaluate new generation based on, among other factors, energy needs, project costs, carbon regulation, natural gas prices, and existing or future legislative provisions for cost recovery. The ultimate decision and timing of Lee will be based on what is in the best interest of our customers and will be founded on the best information available.”

Just this week, Duke announced that it had competed the sale of its assets in six countries, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Argentina to I Squared Capital for approximately $1.2 billion. The sale of its assets in Brazil was completed in October 2016 to China Three Gorges Corp. Part of the reasoning for the sale included the possible escalation of costs associated with decommissioning Crystal River Unit 3 “and other nuclear facilities,” which the company said in a non-binding portion of its statement, “could prove to be more extensive than amounts estimated and all costs may not be fully recoverable through the regulatory process.”

Since Duke submitted its William States Lee III application after the three-unit meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Generation in Japan, the NRC has attached special conditions to the licenses associated with the accident that occurred in March 2011 after the 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake.

The NRC said that the conditions involved “specific actions associated with the agency's post-Fukushima requirements for Mitigation Strategies and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation and a pre-startup schedule for post-Fukushima aspects of the new reactor's emergency preparedness plans and procedures.”

Slated for the Williams States Lee III project are two Westinghouse designed AP-1000 reactors, similar to those in progress at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and the V.C. Summer power plant in South Carolina. The NRC certified the 1,100-megawatt AP-1000 design in 2011. 

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