Critics question Jenkinsville nuclear project

Work has started on the site where two new nuclear reactors will go online later this decade in Jenkinsville.

JENKINSVILLE, S.C. (WACH) - Officials with South Carolina Electric & Gas and the state-owned utility Santee Cooper are celebrating the licenses that will allow them to build two nuclear reactors in Fairfield County.

Santee Cooper president Lonnie Carter says the reactors will bring more business into South Carolina because companies are interested in places that have what he called a clean, reliable source of power.

However, opponents say the reactors are not necessary and the design has not been properly reviewed since last March's Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.

"We should wait and see what the impact of the Fukushima accident is going to be on the design and licensing requirements," said Tom Clements of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

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Last month, federal officials approved construction and operating licenses for the reactors. They are the first to be built in the state since the reactors at the Catawba Nuclear Station in York County went online in the mid-1980s.

Clements has concerns about the new AP1000 reactor's design and its ability to withstand a large earthquake.

Utility officials gave a tour tour of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station Monday, about 25 miles outside Columbia, where work has already started to build the two new 1,000-megawatt reactors.

Clements questions whether the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acted in haste when approving the licenses on the project.

Last month, NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko submitted a dissenting opinion following the recent approval of licenses for the AP1000 reactor not only for the V.C. Summer project, but also for the Vogtle project in Georgia.

However, he applauded the mandate that the South Carolina project meet safety enhancement standards learned from the Fukushima accident before the reactors are ever operational.

The Vogtle project's license was approved in Feburary before that March order by the NRC and does not have to comply.

The V.C. Summer project must abide by those safety enhancements.

"Regardless of whether we're building new reactors or you're talking about our existing plants, we will follow through on the requirements that the commission (NRC) has us mandated to do to make sure we address those challenges from Fukushima," said Jeff Archie, SCE&G Chief Nuclear Officer.

The first reactor is expected to be online by 2017 and the second in 2018. Still, critics like Clements say the license approval should have been delayed until more was known about new design and safety requirments learned from the Fukushima disaster.

"We think it's really backwards to ask them to put into effect as they're building the plant whatever new requirements come out related to Fukushima," said Clements. "We should know what they are now."

The two reactors will be jointly owned and operated with South Carolina's state-owned utility Santee Cooper. The cost of the project is approximately $10 billion.

"We wanted to make sure that as an industry we learned from the events that happened there in Japan," said Archie. "I think as an industry we've all worked together to make sure we had good alignment on those learnings and we are working with the NRC very closely to make sure we are meeting the regulatory requirements."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)