First Look: SCE&G ramping up construction of new nuclear reactors

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - After the severity of Japan's nuclear crisis increased earlier this week, placing it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, many eyes re-focused back home on the safety of nuclear reactors in the United States. But even with the crisis overseas, South Carolina's nuclear future hasn't fizzled. In fact, it's growing.

On Tuesday, SCE&G allowed reporters and cameras to tour its VC Summer Nuclear Plant in Jenkinsville. The site is the future home of two AP1000 reactors.

"From a nuclear perspective we haven't built anything in the country in quite a long time," says SCE&G Chief Operating Officer Stephen Byrne. "To be one of the first ones to build, it's quite an exciting time."

Jenkinsville is already home to one nuclear reactor that was first commissioned in 1984 and has since received a 20-year license extension set to expire in 2042.

Byrne says the two future Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, expected to be operational in 2016 and 2019, will cost nearly $10 billion to complete.

In the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan, Byrne says the AP1000 design is not only safer but a completely different reactor than those in the overseas disaster.

"The AP1000 is designed with steel that's much thicker than traditional plants," says the company's  COO. "A traditional plant [steel] might be a half an inch thick. The AP1000 units use 1.75 inch thick steel so it's a much more robust design."

But even considering the modifications, critics of nuclear power and the public are still skeptical.

"What we've been hearing from people about the events in japan is really a couple things," says Byrne. "One, could it happen here? The other thing we've heard from people are concerns about what they've heard about radiation."

The COO says the VC Summer plant did picked up small traces of radiation that made it across the globe from the Japan disaster. But the traces were too small for any concern.

At least 700 workers are currently splitting time between the construction of the two sites that are due to be completed in the within the next eight years.

The company says once the reactors become operational, South Carolina should become the second largest nuclear power producer in the country creating much more than the current 54 percent of the state's power.

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