What Went Wrong At V.C. Summer? Many Factors Contributed

The plummeting price of natural gas, a lack of political will power, the nation's – indeed, the globe's – romance with renewable power sources and the improved light bulb were among the culprits that rose up against the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station's expansion project which came to a sudden end on Monday.

V.C. SummerSCANA subsidiary South Carolina Electric & Gas was the holdout in the decision, but folded their hand following their partner, the state-owned power company Santee Cooper, which was the first of the two to back away from the 9-year old project. The companies have already sunk $9 billion in to the expansion, an amount that was expected to reach $25 billion by the time construction was completed.

Finger-pointing could certainly include the financial troubles at Westinghouse Electric Company, the construction leader in the project that involved two new AP1000 Westinghouse-designed reactors. Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection on March 29, forcing SCE&G and Santee Cooper to a decision on whether or not to continue with the project.


Blame could be assigned to the Fukushima Daiichi Generating Station that suffered a horrific triple meltdown in 2011, which caused a fresh wave of concern over the safety of nuclear power. This certainly created a slowdown at Westinghouse, as many nations either revamped safety standards to force power companies to spend more on plant safety and others, like Germany, decided to backed away from nuclear power entirely.

Fracking, as much as anything, has set the nuclear power industry on alert. Although the irony couldn't be clearer, many regions are simply turning to cheap natural gas fired power plants, despite the climate change threat they represent. Nuclear power, clean as a whistle in that regard, has been relegated to its also-ran status in the United States, while a pledge to participate – even to lead – the effort to arrest threatening climate change has been put aside at the highest levels. Although President Trump declares himself to be a friend of nuclear power, there is little political willpower through the legislative branches of Washington to go out of their way to support the industry. Meanwhile, the president, a climate-change denier, cannot use the threat to global warming to woo fresh support for the industry.

The previous administration also ignored the industry. Hoping to set itself up as maverick environmental stewards, President Barack Obama's team left nuclear power out of the loop when it sculpted its Clean Power Plan as justification for its support of wind and solar power, two sources of electricity that are perfectly viable, but no match for nuclear power as a major provider of carbon free electricity.

Even the light bulb has contributed to the decision to pull the plug on the expansion project in South Carolina. Newer light bulb designs, including halogen incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps and light-emitting diode lighting cuts down on power consumption by 25 percent to 80 percent from traditional lighting. And these bulbs are just one example of improvements in home appliances that have stabilized the demand for electricity, pulling the rug out from under the generation industry.

Generation companies are still feeling the long-range effects of the Great Recession. The economic slowdown officially began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009. But the effects were building long before and the recovery has not even yet been fully realized. That slowdown, accompanied by a long trend of a manufacturing flight from the United States, cut sharply into economic forecasts that were much rosier as executives were plotting whether or not South Carolina could benefit from two more nuclear power plants.

The more immediate factors that contributed to the decision include “the uncertainty regarding the availability of production tax credits for the project, the amount of anticipated guaranty settlement payments from Toshiba Corporation (Toshiba) and other matters associated with continuing construction,” SCE&G said Monday. The company had been banking on billions of dollars of federal tax credits that went by the wayside due to the repeated delays in the project that pushed completion past legislated target dates.

Meanwhile, the companies agreed to relinquish Toshiba from its responsibilities in the project in exchange for $2.2 billion. As noted, however, there is no guarantee, given Toshiba's financial troubles, that the money will come through. The U.S. companies said that sum, if it materializes, would go towards reducing rate hikes for their customers in the future.

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  • This may be the killing blow to the nuclear industry and guaranteeing a new reactor will never be built in this country again and we can think the anti-nuke news industry and its' onslaught of anti-nuke hit pieces and pie-in-the-sky renewable energy promises.  No I'm serious.  Think about it.  The reactor hasn't been fired up and they're saying nuclear power has failed.  Sorry but this is a botched construction project that wasn't helped by last minute changes to regulations after Fukushima.  But because of the media is always talking down nuclear power at every single opportunity they get while talking up renewables and never covering the hidden cost like subsidies and the fact that it generates large quantities of toxic waste to produce, this is being spun as nuclear has failed.  For nuclear to succeed, the subsidy stream has to be cut to renewables and word has to get out that wind and solar aren't as green as their supporters claim.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    A very very sad day for our country.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    Hear, Hear!

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    If Wind and Solar power are "perfectly viable", why are utilities not building them? Because they are not. Amazingly, again including talking points in what is a very serious conversation.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous

    SCANA and GP were scammed by Shaw Group which submitted a ridiculously low bid for the projects and then scammed CB&I to buy Shaw at a ridiculously high valuation.  James Conca at Forbes magazine has the whole rundown of the scam by this charismatic crook at Shaw who took the money and ran.  If Bechtel had got those contracts, they never would have been in crisis and disaster.