Nuclear Power Set to Surge in South Carolina

Published August 1, 2008

The South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. (SCE&G), a South Carolina water and electricity provider, has entered into agreements with Westinghouse and the Shaw Group to build and maintain two new nuclear power plants. Westinghouse and the Shaw Group have submitted applications to the Nuclear Review Committee (NRC) to receive licenses to operate.

Approval of the proposed plants would mark only the second time in the past 30 years that new nuclear power plants have been approved to operate in the U.S., though early-stage plans for new plants are becoming relatively common.

All Options Considered

“We gave consideration to the various types of base-load generation, including natural gas-fired, coal-fired, and nuclear generation,” said SCE&G President Kevin Marsh in an interview for this article. “We evaluated our options based on a number of factors, including cost to build and operate, the importance of maintaining a balanced generation portfolio in terms of fuel diversity, and environmental impact, particularly as it relates to lowering emissions.

“We determined that the best option for providing our customers with clean, non-emitting reliable energy to meet the growing demand for electricity was to pursue a license to build and operate two new nuclear units at the same location as V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, near Jenkinsville, South Carolina,” Marsh added.

Could Signify Trend

Environmentalists and energy experts are currently touting nuclear energy as a clean alternative to the use of fossil fuels for energy. This comes in the wake of concerns over carbon dioxide emissions and fears about global warming. While fossil fuels are commonly considered the main sources of manmade carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear power produces no carbon dioxide.

“The building of two new power plants in South Carolina may signify a trend in public opinion on nuclear power,” said Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for the Reason Foundation. “But the truth of the matter is that I have concerns about the economic viability of nuclear power.”

Subsidies Distorting Market

It remains more expensive to produce nuclear power than it is to produce power from coal, Bailey noted.

With public opinion swinging in favor of nuclear power as a solution to the energy crisis, Bailey warns federal government subsidies hide some of the cost of nuclear power. Even so, nuclear power is significantly less expensive than other alternative power sources such as wind and solar power.

“There are no truly free markets in energy any more–every form of energy is bound up and distorted by a series of interlocking subsidies,” said Bailey. “Nuclear power is safe, from an environmental perspective, but I am not sure it is the cheapest energy source for the future.”

Aleks Karnick ([email protected]) writes from Indianapolis, Indiana.