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South Carolina abandons partially-built AP1000 reactors

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

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SCANA Corp. and state-owned Santee Cooper pulled the plug on the two partially-built AP1000 reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina on July 31.1 Construction stopped immediately and the dismissal of around 5,000 workers is well underway.

South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G), a subsidiary of SCANA Corp., announced its decision to abandon the reactors shortly after Santee Cooper board members unanimously decided to do so. SCE&G said completion of both reactors would be "prohibitively expensive" while completion of one reactor was a "potentially achievable path" ‒ but abandoned consideration of that option once Santee Cooper's board voted to abandon both reactors.2

Construction of the reactors began in March and November 2013.3 Completion of the reactors was anticipated in 2016 and 2019. But Santee Cooper said that its latest analysis found that the reactors would not be completed until 2022 and 2024.3

SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh blamed rising costs, falling demand for electricity, construction delays and the bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse for the failure of the project.4 He noted that "the bankruptcy of our primary construction contractor, Westinghouse, eliminated the benefits of the fixed-price contract to our customers, investors, and other stakeholders."3

Marsh said SCANA had "reached out to other potential partners and pursued governmental support", without success.3,5 He said of the company's efforts in Washington: "We delivered our message very directly, very clearly, in terms of what we were looking for to support the projects. I believe they made an effort to evaluate options they had available, where they thought they could help us. We went as high as Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, in the last meeting we had up there, and we've not gotten a response. We did hear from the Department of Energy. They called and offered us a DOE loan, which we had evaluated earlier, but that doesn't help the situation we're in."6

What SCANA was asking of the federal government ‒ pursuing "as hard as it could" in Marsh's words ‒ was a non-repayable grant of US$1‒3 billion.7 But the request was rejected.

Marsh said he was not optimistic that the cancellation of the V.C. Summer project would spur Washington to act, and that SCANA has not heard from Washington since the July 31 announcement.5

SCANA has searched for new partners to join the project in recent months, Marsh said, and talked with "a couple of utilities" ‒ but there were no takers.5

Spiraling costs

The cost of the two reactors was estimated at US$9.8 billion in 2008.8 More recently, the official estimate was US$14 billion.9 And the latest estimate ‒ provided after the decision to abandon the project ‒ was around US$25 billion.9,10 Thus the cost estimate has more than doubled ‒ as have the estimates for the French EPR reactors under construction in the France and Finland.

About US$10.4 billion has already been spent on the two V.C. Summer reactors.11

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report said: "Some commentators have termed the decision to abandon V.C. Summer as the equivalent of throwing "billions down the drain", but the construction-completion option was akin to throwing additional billions into a barrel without a bottom."12

Ratepayers on the hook

South Carolina ratepayers have already paid US$1.4 billion towards the construction of the two reactors through surcharges on their monthly power bills.13 SCE&G has implemented nine rate increases while Santee Cooper ratepayers have had five rate increases with two more pending approval.14

There is some pressure for the US$1.4 billion to be returned to ratepayers.15 But as things stand, ratepayers will never see any of the money they have contributed to the abandoned nuclear project. As Associated Press noted, neither SCE&G or Santee Cooper "plans to refund a dime".16 Worse still, they plan to continue to charge ratepayers to recoup as much as possible of the billions they have spent. South Carolina's Base Load Review Act gave SCE&G and Santee Cooper the ability to collect money from customers to finance V.C. Summer during construction and also to recoup costs even if plant never operates, provided state regulators approve.

SCANA and Santee Cooper said they will not use a US$2.2 billion contract settlement payment from Westinghouse's parent company Toshiba to directly reimburse customers, but that the payment will be used to keep rates down. Attorney Bob Guild, representing the state Sierra Club, responded by saying: "This is just a cheap sales ploy to try and make this deal look somehow more digestible. It is not. It is terrible.''17

SCANA told regulators on August 1 that it wants permission to recover around US$5 billion in costs spent on V.C. Summer over the next 60 years.16,18 SCANA executives also want to charge customers interest ‒ or carrying costs ‒ for stretching the payments for the plants over the next six decades instead of a shorter period.19

Energy Caucus

A new, bipartisan state Energy Caucus, with around 27 members, wants change. Some of these lawmakers were responsible for the fiasco of the Base Load Review Act and its demon child, the V.C. Summer boondoggle, and now they are trying to make amends.

Republican Rep. Kirkman Finlay said the Act "basically allowed the utilities a blank check at the ratepayers' expense. There was no incentive to move quickly, efficiently and to control costs. Zero.'20

Energy Caucus members said changes could include firing state regulators who are elected by the legislature. By law, the Public Service Commission ‒ which approved the V.C. Summer project in 2009 as well as numerous rate hikes since ‒ must approve SCE&G's abandonment plans.16 Republican Rep. Micah Caskey, a member of the Energy Caucus, called it the "Puppet Service Commission" and said that "people need to be fired".21

Other Energy Caucus members were equally scathing. Democrat Russell Ott said: "We should go back to the way our rates were nine years ago, before this entire debacle started. Whatever has to be paid for going forward, should be paid for out of the pockets of the utilities that ultimately got us into this mess."17

Democrat Sen. Vincent Sheheen said: "The stockholders have been making out like bandits while the people who were supposed to be protected, the ratepayers, were suffering."17

Democrat Rep. James Smith said the "catastrophic" end of the project at V.C. Summer project shows the current regulatory process doesn't adequately protect residents or the state as a whole.16

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster's office issued a call for state lawmakers to hold "exhaustive hearings" on the project's failure.22

Two South Carolina state senators ‒ Republican Shane Massey and Democrat Nikki Setzler ‒ are calling for a special session of the General Assembly to debate a resolution suspending the authority of Santee Cooper or the Public Service Commission to authorize electricity rate increases until the legislature has a chance to act in the 2018 session.23 Massey and Setzler noted that a joint state Senate and House committee has already announced plans for a review of the V.C. Summer project. However they say they are "concerned that Santee Cooper and/or the Public Service Commission, at SCANA's request, might increase power bills yet again before the review committee has completed its work."23 However it seems the proposal for a special session has insufficient political support to get up.24

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Alan Wilson announced that he would open an investigation into the V.C. Summer project.24

Environment groups

The only hope for long-suffering ratepayers in South Carolina is if it can be proven to state regulators or a court that SCE&G knowingly made unwise management decisions as the project progressed.25

Lawmakers from the Energy Caucus said they expect to find "glaring examples" of improper management practices.19

Bob Guild, an attorney representing the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, said the groups would continue their fight to prevent customers from being charged any more for a project that should have been abandoned long ago. "We will seek to claw back the ill-gotten gains of SCE&G and its shareholders," he said. "We will strongly fight any efforts to pass abandonment costs to the rate payers. There is going to be lots of bloodletting in the courts."26

Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club will appear at a hearing of the South Carolina Public Service Commission in October to argue the case for ratepayers to be protected.27 The groups – involved since the start of the AP1000 projects in South Carolina and Georgia more than a decade ago – have repeatedly warned about the risks of cost overruns and delays and are calling for decision-makers to be held accountable for ignoring warning signs.28

Ecomodernists lose the plot

The pro-nuclear 'Environmental Progress' group has launched a disinformation campaign in response to the cancellation of the V.C. Summer reactors, in the hope of breathing some life into the project's corpse. A July 31 Environmental Progress article states that the utilities were "caving into pressure from Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth" (FoE) by abandoning the project.29

But Environmental Progress 'ecomodernists' know as well as anyone else that the project was doomed regardless of the work of environment groups. Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson said: "Let it be written that environmentalists didn't kill the nuclear power industry, economics did. South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. and partner Santee Cooper abandoned work on two new nuclear reactors this week, not because of public protests, but because the only way to pay for them was to overcharge customers or bankrupt both companies."30

The Environmental Progress article asserts that the Sierra Club and FoE "argued that burning natural gas was a better investment for consumers than finishing the plant." Another falsehood. In support of that assertion, Environmental Progress references a paper which wasn't even written by Sierra Club and FoE ‒ it was written for the groups by Dr Mark Cooper from the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School.31 And Cooper's paper doesn't argue that "burning natural gas was a better investment for consumers than finishing the plant." It argues for extensive demand-side management and greater use of renewable energy sources, and it includes a passing mention of natural gas "to the extent it is needed".

According to the Environmental Progress article, the Sierra Club and FoE argue that "coal generation in South Carolina can be adequately managed by following EPA emissions regulations". No reference is provided in support of that unlikely claim. And since the Sierra Club and FoE support coal (they don't), the Environmental Progress article continues, "these groups imply that carbon emissions and climate change just doesn't matter as long as nuclear plants can be stopped."

The Environmental Progress article asserts that if the V.C. Summer reactors were completed, they would replace 86% of South Carolina's electricity from coal. That's another fabrication. Energy demand growth has fallen well short of expectations in South Carolina. If the reactors went ahead, Santee Cooper would have reserve capacity as high as 44% ‒ about three times the amount it requires.32

In all likelihood, the abandoned 2.2 gigawatts of nuclear capacity will be replaced to a large extent by nothing ‒ by a reduction in the excessive reserve generation capacity that would have arisen if the reactors were completed.

That the reduction in energy demand below earlier projections influenced the decision to abandon V.C. Summer is not in doubt. SCANA CEO Kevin Marsh noted that co-owner Santee Cooper "did their evaluation and determined that because of lower customer growth that they were experiencing and some slowing in their demand for new generation, they felt like the additional cost to their customers was too great for them to proceed."33

If the reactors were completed, it's possible that the excessive reserve capacity could be used to reduce reliance on coal ‒ Santee Cooper has suggested using excess capacity for that purpose as well as attempts to recruit industry into the state.32 But Environmental Progress's assumption that the entire nuclear capacity would be used to retire an equivalent amount of coal-fired generating capacity is make-believe.

All of the above falsehoods and fabrications are embedded in this quote from Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress: "The fact that the Summer nuclear plant would replace 86 percent of South Carolina's coal generation belies the claims by Sierra Club and FoE that nuclear energy is not needed. The episode is yet more evidence that anti-nuclear groups are willing to increase dangerous air pollution and risk catastrophic climate change in service of an ideological agenda that rests upon pseudo-science."29

An article by Nick Gallucci and Michael Shellenberger from Environmental Progress runs hard on the 'national security' memes ‒ building nuclear power plants is a national security issue for reasons that aren't at all apparent ‒ and warns of "global nuclear domination by Russia".34 The authors argue the case for massive, multifaceted taxpayer subsidies for the nuclear industry and for a taxpayer-funded bailout of bankrupt Westinghouse. They argue that such a course will mitigate the threat of nuclear proliferation. The Nuclear Energy Institute has been promoting the opposite argument recently, trying to convince politicians in Washington that if the AP1000 reactor construction projects in South Carolina and Georgia aren't completed, it would stunt development of the nation's nuclear weapons complex because the engineering expertise on the energy side helps the weapons side.35


1. SCANA, 31 July 2017, 'South Carolina Electric & Gas Company to Cease Construction and Will File Plan of Abandonment of the New Nuclear Project',

2. Kristi E. Swartz, 31 July 2017, 'Utilities pull plug on V.C. Summer expansion project',

3. World Nuclear News, 1 Aug 2017, 'US nuclear construction project to be abandoned',

4. Andrew Follett, 31 July 2017, 'Major South Carolina Nuclear Project Goes Under',

5. Peter Maloney, 3 Aug 2017, 'SCANA CEO: White House did not respond to pleas for Summer nuke support',

6. Megan Geuss, 4 Aug 2017, 'Vogtle, Summer nuclear plants face bleak outlook after Westinghouse bankruptcy',

7. Amy Harder, 4 Aug 2017, 'Utility made failed plea for billion-dollar nuclear grant',

8. World Nuclear Industry Status Report, 2 Feb 2017, 'Toshiba-Westinghouse: The End of New-build for the Largest Historic Nuclear Builder',

9. Russell Gold, 2 Aug 2017, 'US nuclear revival hopes dim as utilities ditch reactors', The Wall Street Journal,

10. Brad Plumer, 31 July 2017, 'U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned',

11. Mark Nelson and Michael Shellenberger, 2 Aug 2017, 'Wind Energy Still More Expensive Than Nuclear Reactors Halted for Cost Overruns',

12. WNISR, 1 Aug 2017, 'Utilities Abandon V. C. Summer AP1000 Reactor Construction Following Westinghouse Bankruptcy',

13. Steven Mufson, 31 July 2017, 'S.C. utilities halt work on new nuclear reactors, dimming the prospects for a nuclear energy revival',

14. Harriet McLeod, 1 Aug 2017, 'UPDATE 3-Utilities ditch reactors that launched US nuclear renaissance',

15. Aiken Standard, 31 July 2017, 'Editorial: SCANA customers should get refunds',

16. Seanna Adcox / Associated Press, 2 Aug 2017, 'Workers fired by abandonment of nuclear project storm South Carolina Statehouse',

17. Sammy Fretwell, 2 Aug 2017, 'SCE&G customers will continue paying for nuke project, even though it won't be built',

18. Peter Maloney, 4 Aug 2017, 'Death of a nuke build: Summer abandonment leaves ratepayers holding the bag',

19. Andrew Brown, 2 Aug 2017, 'S.C. lawmakers want SCANA stockholders to eat costs of two failed nuclear reactors',

20. Avery G. Wilks and Cassie Cope, 5 Aug 2017, 'How SC lawmakers passed a 2007 law that failed SC power customers',

21. 2 Aug 2017, ''People Need to be Fired' Over Nuclear Plant Debacle, Lawmaker Says',

22. Thad Moore, 31 July 2017, 'Santee Cooper, SCE&G pull plug on roughly $25 billion nuclear plants in South Carolina',

23. Tanita Gaither, 5 Aug 2017, 'Bipartisan SC Senate leaders call for special session in wake of V.C. Summer abandonment',

24. Andrew Brown, Andy Shain and Maya T. Prabhu, 4 Aug 2017, 'Attorney General says he's investigating abandonment of nuclear reactors; South Carolina state senators call for special session',

25. Andrew Brown, 1 Aug 2017, 'The failure of two nuclear units could leave South Carolina customers with the electric bill',

26. John Downey, 31 July 2017, 'S.C. utilities stop building $16B V.C. Summer nuclear expansion',

27. Seanna Adcox / Associated Press, 2 Aug 2017, 'End of nuclear project prompts overhaul of review process',

28. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 31 July 2017, 'Santee Cooper, SCANA pull plug on two nuclear reactors in South Carolina, killing the V.C. Summer nuclear plant expansion project',

29. Mark Nelson and Michael Light, 31 July 2017, 'New South Carolina Nuclear Plant Would Cut Coal Use by 86%, New Analysis Finds',

30. Chris Tomlinson, 3 Aug 2017, 'Nuclear power as we know it is finished',

31. Mark Cooper, July 2017, 'The Failure of the Nuclear Gamble in South Carolina',

32. Sammy Fretwell, 19 July 2017, 'Santee Cooper will be awash in excess power if SC nuke project is completed',

33. John Downey, 1 Aug 2017, 'SCANA sought other partners for troubled V.C. Summer plant before halting construction',

34. Nick Gallucci and Michael Shellenberger, 3 Aug 2017, 'Are we really going to allow global nuclear domination by Russia?',

35. Amy Harder, 16 June 2017, 'Nuclear scramble on tax credits',

Reactions to the cancellation of the South Carolina reactors

The decision to abandon the two VC Summer reactors will have a chilling effect on regulators, consumers and potential nuclear customers in the US and abroad, noted Paul Murphy from multinational law firm Gowling WLG.1 "If you can't build plants in your own country, that's not a great story for nuclear in that country and it's not a great story for the ability to export," he said.

The South Carolina decision amounted to a "crippling setback" to the long quest to revive the US nuclear power industry according to the Washington Post.2 It was a "major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States" according to Bloomberg.3

Reuters noted that the South Carolina decision "adds to the long list of reactors power companies have canceled over the past 40 years."4 Forty-eight reactors have been canceled after construction began in the US according to the Reuters list.

Josh Freed from the pro-nuclear 'Third Way' group noted that the V.C. Summer problems stem in part from the fact that the US lacks the workforce and supply chain to support new nuclear plants after a three-decade construction hiatus.5 That hinders not only plants like V.C. Summer but also efforts to deploy technologies like small modular reactors, he said.

Rich Powell, executive director of the ClearPath Foundation, said: "In any industry, if it's not growing it's dying. If we can't keep some construction going, our already pretty challenged nuclear renaissance will become fully challenged."6

John Quiggin, Professor of Economics at the University of Queensland, wrote: "Almost everywhere, however, the vision of safe, cheap nuclear power has proved unattainable. ... But the dream dies hard. Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, the idea that nuclear fission offers a cheap, safe and reliable source of electricity, obstructed only by the irrational fears of environmentalists, remains strong. What the shareholders of Toshiba, Westinghouse and SCANA, and the electricity consumers of South Carolina have learned, like others before them, is that this is a costly illusion."7

The Beyond Nuclear NGO paid tribute to the environmental groups that led the fight against the V.C. Summer project ‒ Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and the Southern Alliance for Safe Energy. Beyond Nuclear reminded readers of the 1985 Forbes magazine cover story 'Nuclear Follies' that described the development of commercial atomic power as "the largest managerial disaster in U.S. business history where only the blind and the biased can say the money was well spent."8

Tom Clements, an advisor to Friends of the Earth, said:9

"The decision to abandon the V.C. Summer project is of monumental proportion and is a full admission that pursuit of the project was a fool's mission right from the start. The damage that this bungled project has caused to ratepayers and the state's economy must be promptly addressed by SCE&G, Santee Cooper and regulators and all effort must be made to minimize that damage. SCE&G and Santee Cooper must now take on a large part of the project's cost."

"To reduce the on-going blow to SCE&G ratepayers already paying 18 percent of the bill just to pay for project financing, it's time for money to be refunded as it was collected from them under the false pretense that advance payment for the nuclear project was sound. In proceedings before the South Carolina Public Service Commission, we pledge to be a steward of the public interest and to determine who must be held accountable for this boondoggle and to fight for monetary reparations to customers."

"Warnings about potential problems with the project were raised in 2008 and repeatedly since then by Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club but they were blindly ignored by both SCE&G and Santee Cooper as well as regulators. There was ample warning about the pitfalls that the project would face so it appears that regulators may have simply bowed to the will of SCE&G and rubber stamped decisions at every step of the way without proper review.

"Regulators have so far not attempted to make a case that they provided proper oversight and the pressure is now on them to explain their actions that have led to this debacle. Agencies charged with looking out for the public interest ‒ the South Carolina Public Service Commission and the Office of Regulatory Staff ‒ failed the citizens of the state by not performing due diligence of the unsubstantiated claims made by SCE&G about the project's cost, schedule and ease of construction."

Cindi Ross Scoppe, associate editor at The State newspaper, wrote: "IF SCE&G AND Santee Cooper were free-market businesses, they'd probably be out of business in the wake of South Carolina's nuclear meltdown. Or they'd have new management. Or they would have abandoned their nuclear reactors years ago ‒ if they had ever started building them. If SCE&G were even just a regular regulated monopoly ‒ one that didn't have the Legislature's blessing to charge ratepayers $1.4 billion, and keep charging us even more, for electricity we will never receive ‒ it probably would have walked away from the project much sooner. Or, like every other regulated monopoly in the nation without such legislative protection, never started it. But state law reduced SCE&G's risk and made it financially and psychologically easier for the company to pursue a high-risk plan to build the nation's first new nuclear reactors in decades. And state law allowed Santee Cooper to join the venture without even the modicum of oversight that SCE&G had."10

Brett Bursey, executive director of the S.C. Progressive Network, wrote: "Gov. Henry McMaster has called for legislative hearings into what may be the biggest theft in state history: a multi-billion-dollar nuclear disaster. I witnessed the crime first-hand and know who pulled off the heist. Those blaming SCE&G for shaking down consumers are chasing the wrong culprit. SCE&G is an investor-owned monopoly whose mission is to make money for its stockholders. It was no surprise, then, that it took advantage of an opportunity to socialize the risk and privatize the profit of building nuclear reactors. That's what profit-driven corporations do. ... The villain in this billion-dollar theft isn't the for-profit corporation. It's legislators who pass laws that restrict the regulators who could prevent the theft. The Legislature needs to do no more than look in the mirror to see who's guilty."11

Edward Davis, a former President of the American Nuclear Energy Council and now with the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, said: "For the nuclear industry over the last year, the news has not been encouraging ... But the news this week coming out of South Carolina announcing the cancellation of the Summer Nuclear Units 2 and 3 project was much more ominous. ... What was most telling about the cancellation of the Summer Nuclear Project was the virtual silence from around the nuclear industry as the industry was surely witnessing a cataclysmic event, one which is no doubt maybe signaling its demise, at least as we know it. ... In the bygone days of the industry, industry leaders ... would have certainly reacted to the news of the cancellation by swiftly issuing a clarion call to action to put in place a rescue and recovery plan working in conjunction with the Federal and State government officials as well as labor leaders and other stakeholders. Today's industry silence signals shows how fundamentally the industry structure has changed where the industry has now evolved to a much more competitive state with significantly diversified interests."12


1. Anya Litvak, 31 July 2017, 'Westinghouse power plants abandoned in South Carolina',

2. Steven Mufson, 31 July 2017, 'S.C. utilities halt work on new nuclear reactors, dimming the prospects for a nuclear energy revival',

3. Brad Plumer, 31 July 2017, 'U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned',

4. Reuters, 1 Aug 2017, 'Factbox: U.S. nuclear reactors that were canceled after construction began',

5. Benjamin Storrow, 3 Aug 2017, 'A plant dies, and some ask if nuclear can help the climate',

6. Dino Grandoni, 4 Aug 2017, 'The Energy 202: The United States is running out of nuclear options',

7. John Quiggin, 4 August 2017, 'Remember the nuclear renaissance? Well, it's over',

8. Beyond Nuclear, 1 Aug 2017, 'New U.S. reactor construction collapses because it's "prohibitively expensive": the fight for justice continues',

9. Tom Clements, 31 July 2017, 'South Carolina Utility Scraps $14 Billion Nuclear Project',

10. Cindi Ross Scoppe, 3 Aug 2017, 'This is what has to change after the SC nuclear meltdown',

11. Brett Bursey, 3 Aug 2017, 'The nuclear power play',

12. Edward Davis, 4 Aug 2017, 'Nuclear Industry Hits Its ‘Strategic Inflection Point'',