2016-10-07 / Front Page

Duke makes pitch for nuke plant project to NRC brass

By TIM GULLA
Ledger Staff Writer

While a firm date has not been announced, the three members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission are expected to make a decision in the very near future about whether Duke Energy will receive a license to construct and operate a nuclear power facility here.

A final hearing on Duke Energy’s application for a combined construction and operating license (COL) for the proposed William States Lee Nuclear Station in McKowns Mountain began Wednesday at the NRC headquarters in Maryland at 9 a.m. and wrapped up shortly after 2 p.m.

Duke applied for the license in 2007 and Wednesday’s hearing was perhaps the biggest milestone to date for the proposed project.

“We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the mandatory hearing today,” Duke spokesperson Rita Sipe said after the hearing. Our Duke Energy team worked diligently developing the Lee Nuclear combined construction and operating license (COL) application and supporting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission review of this application. This mandatory hearing is the last milestone in the licensing process, and we look forward to completing the process and receiving the Lee Nuclear COL.”

During the hearing, the three members of the NRC Board of Commissioners heard testimony from numerous Duke Energy officials as well as from scientists and engineers on the NRC staff about the project, any lingering issues, environmental concerns, at least one special request by Duke Energy and staff recommendations that Duke be granted the license.

Chris Fallon, vice president of nuclear development at Duke Energy, said in his opening statement that Duke, as a longtime operator of nuclear facilities, has the necessary skills, expertise and personnel to build and operate the proposed plant. Fallon said Duke has historically received about 50 percent of its energy from nuclear sources and has rates that are 20 percent to 30 percent below regional and national averages, demonstrating the cost competitive nature of nuclear power.

“We selected the Lee site after a comprehensive evaluation of alternative sites,” he noted.

Another Duke official said during Thursday’s hearing that Duke looked at as many as 23 sites in both North Carolina and South Carolina before narrowing its list and ultimately focusing on the parcel in McKowns Mountain.

The parcel in McKowns Mountain, located next to the Broad River, was previously selected as the site of a nuclear facility but the facility never was built.

Duke has not yet officially committed to building the multi-billion dollar plant, a fact which one NRC commissioner questioned the utility about. The licensing process for the nuclear facility comes at a time when natural gas prices are still very low.

If Duke gets the license and makes a decision to go forward with construction, it would take at least a year from that decision for actual work to begin, the NRC commissioners were told.

Duke’s current longrange plans call for the first of the two nuclear reactors planned for the Cherokee County site to go online in 2026. The license for Duke’s Oconee plant is set to expire in 2038, it was noted, although Duke is seeking to renew that license.

NRC Chairman Stephen Burns said at the conclusion of the hearing, “As I mentioned this morning, the commission expects to issue a final decision promptly on the record before us with due regard to the complexity of the issues that we have faced today.”

The NRC Commissioners can ask follow-up post-hearing questions if they need additional information or clarification, it was noted. Any questions will likely be asked by Oct. 12 while the deadline for responses to NRC Commissioner questions will likely be Oct. 20, Stephens said.

Among the requests by Duke that the NRC will take into consideration is a request to allow Duke to have the Emergency Operations Center for the proposed plant be located at Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte, which also serves as the emergency operations center for several other plants. NRC approval of that request is necessary since it would be located beyond the typical 25-mile limit for such a center. Such a center is mainly used for emergency communications. The control room and other critical operations would still be located at the actual plant, it was noted.

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