South Carolina professor projects numerous benefits from nuclear plants

V.C. Summer nuclear station, unit 1
V.C. Summer nuclear station, unit 1 | U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

South Carolina will enjoy a number of economic and environmental benefits once construction is complete on the V.C. Summer nuclear facilities and the new plants begin operations, a University of South Carolina professor said this week.

“First and foremost it will be a large-scale source of power that produces neither air pollution nor greenhouse gases,” Theodore Besmann, chair of the school's General Atomics Center, said.

South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) and Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility, are building two 1,117-megawatt nuclear units at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, South Carolina, where V.C. Summer Unit 1 has been in commercial operation for more than 30 years.

The new plants should allow further closure of coal-burning facilities, improving the state's air quality and environment, Besmann added.

Nuclear power is a major industry in South Carolina. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), more than $295 million of materials, services and fuel for the nuclear energy industry are purchased annually from more than 1,050 South Carolina companies. Companies seeking to relocate consider many factors, including access to reliable electricity and price stability. 

“The new plants will assure that the state continues to have an adequate power supply to support new industrial customers, and to provide them assurance with regard to likely future power costs,” Besmann said.

Surplus power from the plants not needed within a service region can be sold into the regional market, further improving the economics of the plants and reducing costs for South Carolina businesses and consumers, he said. The nuclear power plants also will increase tax revenue for the local governments they operate near which will, in turn, provide economic support for the local communities.

A Clemson University study, cited by NEI, focused in part on total direct impact of the nuclear industry based on employment at 12 operating nuclear energy facilities in North Carolina and South Carolina, the Energy Department’s Savannah River and Barnwell sites, the V.C. Summer facility, Plant Vogtle in Georgia, and nuclear suppliers and subcontractors. Each reactor supports a payroll of $40 million by employing between 400 and 700 individuals, the report said. Furthermore, the macro-economic impact of each reactor is estimated to be $470 million to the local economy. Nuclear plants require highly skilled workers, including nuclear plant operators and nuclear-quality welders.

Construction of the two new reactors at the V.C. Summer site will create an estimated 5,000 jobs at peak construction, the NEI said.

In an update on its construction and cost schedule in March for the new Summer nuclear units, SCE&G said Unit 2 should be completed in 2019 and Unit 3 by 2020. SCE&G said the total project capital cost had risen to an estimated $6.8 billion, which includes increased costs related to delays and an allowance for funds used during construction.

Although construction cost estimates have increased, SCE&G said favorable changes in the financing costs, inflation and production tax credits are expected to offset the ultimate cost to customers.

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