$9 Billion Nuclear Scrapyard: New Aerial Photos of SCE&G’s Abandoned V.C. Summer Nuclear Project Reveal Disarray
Reactor Building and Components Left Unprotected; Most Cranes Removed
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Newly obtained aerial photographs of the abandoned V.C. Summer nuclear reactor construction site reveal that there is no protection of installed reactor components from the weather. (See notes below for links to photos.)
The photos provided to Friends of the Earth are being released in the middle of the political firestorm in South Carolina about the terminated project. It has become clear that South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) and its partner, Santee Cooper, withheld key information for years about the faltering project and were finally forced to simply walk away from on-going construction with no site shut-down plan in place.
The photos of the debacle, on which $9 billion was wasted, confirm that when work was abruptly halted on July 31, no preparation had been made to protect buildings and key components associated with reactor units 2 and 3. One existing reactor, visible in the photos, has operated at the site since 1982.
The photos, taken on September 18, reveal that nuclear reactor modules installed inside the open containment vessels are exposed to the weather. The partially finished ‘shield buildings,’ in which the reactors are located, lack roofs and sit fully exposed to the elements. Construction was only about 37% complete when the work was halted and had been continuing at a snail’s pace.
“Almost two months after the project was halted the V.C. Summer reactor construction site still looks like it was abruptly abandoned with no shut-down plan,” said Tom Clements, senior adviser to Friends of the Earth. “Not only was SCE&G grossly negligent during construction of the project, but the photos of the site reveal that the company also exhibited imprudent behavior in abandoning the project without proper closure plans. The forlorn site looks like a nuclear ghost town best suited for a Hollywood movie set,” added Clements. (Duke Energy’s abandoned nuclear reactor project in Cherokee County, South Carolina, was used as a set for the science fiction film The Abyss in 1989.)
Years of weathering will ravage the unprotected reactor components and partially constructed shield buildings and turbine buildings, according to Friends of the Earth. The turbine buildings, located adjacent to the reactors, sit without roofs and with open walls. A large number of white tent-like temporary buildings are visible and, according to information provided by site workers to Friends of the Earth, protect unused components. The short lifespan of the shelters will necessitate long-term plans if components are to be retained and not sold off.
The photos were taken by High Flyer, an anonymous pilot who for years has provided photos of V.C. Summer. The photos were taken in compliance with regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration and have been provided to Friends of the Earth for distribution in the public interest, including for regulators and law enforcement investigators. The photos can be used with credit to High Flyer (e.g. Courtesy of High Flyer © 2017). SCE&G has not provided photos of the abandoned site.
It can be easily seen in earlier photos that approximately 13 cranes which were on the site on May 26 before project shut-down, have mostly been removed. Only a few cranes can be seen in the September 18 photos. The massive blue crane located in the center of the project – called a heavy-lift derrick and claimed to be the largest such crane in the world – remains as it likely difficult to find a buyers for such a specialized piece of equipment.
On August 17, SCE&G notified the NRC that it had ceased construction on July 31 and that “within 90 days from the date of this letter, SCE&G will submit a plan for disposition of the combined licenses (COLs)” for the project. On September 14 the NRC informed SCE&G in a letter that it had suspended inspection of the project on July 31 and, in an attached inspection report, cited violations that will now go unresolved.
In addition to having the burden of a $9-billion scrap yard on its hands, SCE&G has presented no plan to the South Carolina Public Services Commission concerning the current status of the site and thus has no abandonment spending plan approved. Along with other abandonment costs that SCE&G hopes to place on ratepayers – totaling as high as $4.9 billion – any costs that are being incurred to now manage the site will be subject to challenge before the PSC and could end up coming out of the pockets of SCE&G and Santee Cooper.
Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, which still have an active complaint before the PSC- Docket 2017-207-E – will participate in any docket concerning the project and will address all aspects of abandonment costs. The groups are seeking to protect the organizations’ members and public from any charges due to the reckless and imprudent spending on the project since its inception in 2008. Friends of the Earth warned in 2008 in the very first intervention against the new reactor project that its success was doubtful and that cost overruns, schedule delays and construction problems would be encountered. (See original docket from 2008: Docket 2008-196-E).
High Flyer has for years provided photos to the Columbia-based public interest group Savannah River Site Watch of V.C. Summer, Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle (a twin project to V.C. Summer) and the Department of Energy’s mismanaged plutonium fuel MOX project at the Savannah River Site. SRS Watch, in coordination with FOE, will soon release new aerial photos of Vogtle and the MOX project.
Photos of V.C. Summer, September 18, 2017, posted on High Flyer’s Google drive: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BwkyYyn8X-ySX3UwS0JfdWlveFU
Photos of V.C. Summer, September 13, 2017, with shadows and haze, ©High Flyer: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BwkyYyn8X-ySc291Q3dMQjBJeEE
Photos of V.C. Summer, May 26, 2017, also ©High Flyer: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BwkyYyn8X-ySTHlYc0pwWDhCTWs