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New Nuclear Plants Benefit South Carolina

May 15, 2013 - 6:00pm

On March 11, South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) completed the pouring of the concrete foundation for a new reactor at the V.C. Summer site in Jenkinsville, S.C.

The plants location in Fairfield County is one of the three counties Im proud to represent in the South Carolina state Senate.

This seminal event, the first nuclear plant foundation to be poured in the U.S in three decades, will culminate in two new reactors that are expected to begin producing electricity in 2017 and 2018. Unit 1 has been producing electricity there for 30 years.

The V.C. Summer project brings multiple benefits to the state, including jobs, educational advancement for the next generation of workers at the plant and, most importantly, affordable electricity for more than 1 million additional homes and businesses.

Ive been reading the reports of the recent debate in the Florida Legislature to curtail the cost-recovery process for building new nuclear plants in Florida. We have a similar structure in South Carolina. I fully understand lawmakers wondering why energy companies are collecting fees for new plants that havent begun producing electricity. I believe the Legislature successfully resisted pressure from outside anti-nuclear interest groups with their own agenda and made a wise decision in allowing the cost-recovery process to continue while making certain revisions to the law to increase protections for ratepayers.

In South Carolina, our lawmakers looked to the future and realized that the affordable electricity we have, and will continue to have along with the economic benefits in South Carolina, is due to the construction and operation of these new nuclear plants. And they are being built in part due to the conditions in place for lower-cost financing.

We are fortunate in South Carolina as eight nuclear plants provide more than half of the states electricity and more than 95 percent of the electricity that doesnt emit greenhouse gases. The new reactors being built at V.C. Summer are around one-third complete and already are strengthening the states economy. More than 1,500 workers are working on the site and the project will create 3,000 to 3,500 jobs at peak construction over the next few years.

The communities near the plant have some of the best schools, roads, libraries, police, fire and other municipal infrastructure. Funding comes primarily from property taxes, and SCE&G pays more than $20 million in property taxes for V.C. Summer. That amount will significantly increase when the two new reactors begin operations.

In addition, the construction of the two new nuclear plants is a boon to the Port of Charleston. Throughout the construction of the plants, approximately 30 cargo vessels will deliver 24,000 tons of equipment to the port that will be trucked to the plant site.

The operation of V.C. Summer and the building of the two additional reactors also is acting as a catalyst for training the next generation of professionals for productive, well-paying careers. SCE&G is partnering with various schools and other organizations in the state to make that happen.

Midlands Technical College established a nuclear systems technology program in 2009 at the request of SCE&G, which also contributed $100,000 to equip a training center in Fairfield County that opened in 2011. These programs supply the company with qualified nuclear technicians for V.C. Summer. Earlier this month, Midlands Tech held its second annual ceremony recognizing students who earned the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP) certificate, a program of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), designed to educate and develop operators and technicians for nuclear power plants around the country.

SCE&G also partners with other institutions of higher learning in the state including Aiken Technical College, South Carolina State University, the nations only historically black college offering a nuclear engineering degree, and the Fairfield County School Districts science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training program.

Rep. James E. Clyburn, a high-ranking member of Congress, recently held a town hall meeting in Columbia, where he discussed the economic and educational benefits nuclear energy is bringing to the state -- and especially to minority communities. Clyburn made note of the fact that nuclear energy nationwide supports more than 100,000 quality, high-paying American jobs with industry salaries about 36 percent higher than average salaries in the local area.

Based on national averages each nuclear power plant creates $470 million in economic benefits in the state and around $40 million in total labor income. With average salaries ranging from $66,000 to $72,000 a year, these positions pay well. In addition, since nuclear plants operate for up to 60 years, its as close to an opportunity for lifetime employment as possible.

Florida depends on natural gas for more than two-thirds of its electricity, up from 47 percent just five years ago. Natural gas is relatively inexpensive and in ample supply for now. But if history is any guide, that wont always be the case. With nuclear energy, uranium fuel is a small component of the overall cost and thus offers long-term price and supply stability.

My fellow legislators in Florida are living up to their responsibilities as representatives of their constituents to look at state laws and make adjustments where necessary, and not taking action that may have detrimental consequences for supplying affordable energy to succeeding generations.

Creighton B. Coleman is a Democratic state senator in South Carolina.

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