The V.C. Summer nuclear facility at Jenkinsville is a major liability for electrical ratepayers, and for the State of South Carolina because of the involvement of public utility Santee Cooper. Nevertheless, the stalled nuclear project is a potential asset, and should be preserved, at least until independent engineers determine if it can be made functional at some later date.
Doing so means another expense for the twin-reactor project, which has already gobbled about $9 billion. But if left exposed to the elements, it won't be worth anything.
Consider that the Tennessee Valley Authority stopped construction on its 80-percent-completed Watts Bar 2 reactor in the early 1980s, then restarted work in 2007, completed construction in 2015 and finally started producing electricity in 2016. Though sidelined for years, it became the nation's first new source of nuclear-generated electricity in 20 years.
On the other hand, Duke Power abandoned its Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant near Gaffney in 1982 and left it to the elements. Its only practical use came in 1987, when movie producer James Cameron filled the turbine pit and containment vessel with water and used them to film "The Abyss."
Former Santee Cooper CEO Lonnie Carter has estimated that preserving the construction site could cost about $15 million per year.
Already, a few big players in the electric power industry are kicking the tires of Santee Cooper, which owns 45 percent of the stalled nuclear project. So it's certainly in the state's interest, and those of taxpayers and ratepayers, to preserve what's there, at least for the present. The Legislature should insist on it.
Although the project was only 37 percent finished when work was stopped July 31, about 90 percent of the remaining parts worth billions of dollars have been purchased and are on-site.
Sen. Mike Fanning, D-Fairfield, whose district includes the site, told a Senate committee that the need to act is urgent. He's right. "We have a state asset there — at least 45 percent of the $9 billion invested there.”
A spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster has said the governor would urge SCE&G/SCANA, which owns 55 percent of the project, to help preserve the site for "the benefit of the state."
But SCANA officials have expressed a desire to abandon the project to take advantage of tax write-offs potentially worth billions.
Though the state has limited oversight of SCE&G/SCANA, the state Public Service Commission should demand that the utility shoulder its share of the upkeep costs.
Mothballing the reactors won't ensure their eventual completion and use, but it will retain the viability of the project, assuming that errors in the project's construction can be repaired. If experts can make the call on that essential question in the near term, so much the better.
This editorial is from The Post and Courier of Charleston via The Associated Press.