Regulators probe Duke about Lee nuclear plans in wake of Westinghouse bankruptcy

Dive Brief:

  • The North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) has asked Duke Energy for details about how Westinghouse’s bankruptcy could impact a proposed plant being developed in South Carolina, including the potential for any delays or alternative technologies.
  • Duke proposed the 2,234 MW Lee Nuclear Station in Cherokee County, S.C., in 2007. The plant was planned utilize a pair of Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, the very technology that has caused delays and cost overruns at two other nuclear plants. 
  • In March, Westinghouse, the nuclear development subsidiary of Toshiba, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection. The development has thrown several nuclear projects into question, including the Lee station, Southern's Vogtle plant in Georgia and SCANA's V.C. Summer plant, also in South Carolina.

Dive Insight:

Regulators in North Carolina are keeping a close eye on Duke's nuclear project in the Palmetto State, wary that financial woes at Westinghouse could spread to the utility.

NCUC has asked Duke to provide information on several topics, including: its assessment of the Toshiba bankruptcy situation; possible resolutions and likely timelines; technology options beyond the AP1000 reactor; whether the project is coningent on that reactor type; and the potential for any delays.

Regulators are also asking for a description of any contracts that Duke may have entered with Toshiba or Toshiba's affiliates to support the design and construction of the Lee Nuclear Station, "including any termination clauses."

A copy of the commission's May 15 request to Duke can be found here.

Westinghouse's development the Vogtle and V.C. Summer plants are largely to blame for the company's financial issues. Both plants are years behind schedule and billions over budget.

In April, seven utilities warned the bankruptcy court that they believed Westinghouse would need additional funds to continue operating, saying an $800 million bankruptcy loan will be insufficient. 

Then just last week, Southern reached a deal with Westinghouse to take over control of construction on the Vogtle plant. That deal, however, is contingent on SCANA coming to a similar agreement with the developer on the VC Summer plant, so the two companies can share resources. 

SCANA has until June 26 to reach a deal on Summer. Even if both utilities regain construction control, they will still have to evaluate the costs of completing the nuclear projects, and could elect to abandon the plants in favor of cheap and easy-to-build natural gas generation. 

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Top image credit: US NRC