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Will the U.S. Save Its Nuclear Industry, as Two out of Four Plants under Construction Are Put on Hold?

Aug. 1, 2017 (EIRNS)—Construction has been halted on two new nuclear power plants in South Carolina, it was announced by the utility owners yesterday. Completion of the two V.C. Summer AP1000 units had been put in limbo with the March bankruptcy of Westinghouse. Although four days ago, Toshiba, which owns Westinghouse, agreed to pay the utilities $2.168 billion to settle the contract, co-owner, state-owned utility Santee Cooper determined that, since that is not enough money to complete the plants, and further price increases for customers would be required, they will suspend construction. Co-owner South Carolina Electric & Gas, which had been considering the option of completing one unit, then had no choice, but to follow suit.

There are numerous reasons why the cost of the two reactors could nearly double from the original estimate made nearly a decade ago. But the most fundamental is the state of the nuclear supply industry, which has not built a plant from scratch for 30 years. (The two Tennessee Valley Authority) plants that have come online over the past two decades were nearly-completed mothballed plants.) The broad problem, said Rich Powell, from the Clear-Path Foundation, is that "We’ve let our nuclear industry atrophy for 30 years, and we’ve lost the robust supply chains and expertise needed."

It is also the case that the AP1000 reactors, ordered for the South Carolina V.C. Summer project, and the Georgia Vogtle project, are new, Generation 3+ designs, with increased safety, and other improved features, and any first-of-a-kind project will almost always be over cost and behind schedule. But the fact that nuclear power plants have to "compete" with heavily subsidized "renewables" and with fracked natural gas means that new, more advanced nuclear technology, unable to "compete," would never be able to come online, at all.

Santee Cooper has directed its management to "preserve and protect the site and related components," World Nuclear News reports. "During the wind-down," said Santee Cooper President Lonnie Carter,

"Santee Cooper will also continue investigating federal support and additional partners to see if we can make the project economical again."

The parent company of South Carolina Electric & Gas had also "reached out to other potential partners and pursued government support" but without success, CEO Kevin Marsh told investors.

Policymakers can continue to complain and fear-monger over the global high-technology business that is being grabbed up by China and Russia, which includes the export of nuclear power plants, but these countries are really filling a vacuum left by a U.S. industry, which without a new policy from Washington, can’t even build a couple of plants on home ground.