Duke, Progress Energy stand by plans to expand nuclear power

Posted March 15, 2011
Updated March 16, 2011

— Despite a nuclear crisis looming in Japan, officials with North Carolina's two largest utilities said they remain focused on bringing new nuclear plants to the state.

Duke officials appeared before the North Carolina Utilities Commission on Tuesday requesting approval to spend $459 million in development costs for a two-unit nuclear plant near Gaffney, S.C.

Duke is awaiting federal approval to build the $11 billion plant. The request on Tuesday would cover development expenses for the plant until 2013. 

"Our commitment hasn't faltered," Duke Energy President and CEO Jim Rogers said.

The company has already spent $170 million on the plant, which they hope to make operational by 2020. 

Progress Energy, which is in the midst of a merger with Duke, has plans to build two reactors at the Shearon Harris nuclear site in Wake County. 

Both companies admit that they can't predict if fears over Japan's problems will affect their expansion plans. 

On Tuesday, Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant emitted a burst of radiation, following an explosion and fire. Days earlier the plant was damaged by a deadly tsunami and earthquake. 

Officials have been struggling to address the failure of safety systems at several of the plant's reactors since Friday's twin disasters.

"Common sense tells me that the accident is going to force some rethinking of the role of nuclear. How much rethinking is not clear," Rogers said. 

Rogers stressed that in the United States 70 percent of carbon-free electricity comes from nuclear power.

Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes agreed that nuclear power is important now and in the future.

NC State professor explains nuclear reactors NC State professor explains nuclear reactors

The North Carolina Utilities Commission has six months to decide on Duke's request. South Carolina regulators will take a similar look at the project within months. 

The company is not legally required to seek the commission's approval to spend the money on the plant. If the commission does agree it is prudent for Duke to move forward with its plans, that could put the company in a better position to get the commission's approval for a rate increase later. 

Duke said it won't proceed with the project unless North Carolina changes state law so that it can start charging consumers before the nuclear plant is completed. Legislation hasn't yet been introduced in the legislature.

During Tuesday's meeting, some citizens feared the cost of the plant would be passed on to customers in the form of rate increases. 

"We certainly don't need to make rate-payers pay upfront for expensive nuclear plants that the maker will not finance," Charlotte resident Beth Henry said.

Duke operates two nuclear units at McGuire Nuclear Station in Mecklenburg County. It has three units at Oconee Nuclear Station in Oconee County, S.C., and two at Catawba Nuclear Station in York County, S.C. 

Oconee began operation in 1973 and at full capacity, its three units produce over 2,500 megawatts.

McGuire and Catawba nuclear stations each have two nuclear units with a total generating capacity of more than 2,200 megawatts.

Duke's nuclear fleet provides electricity to about half of its customers in the Carolinas, company officials said. 

Along with Shearon Harris, Progress Energy operates the Brunswick plant in Southport, the Robinson plant in Harstville, S.C., and the Crystal River plant in Florida.

North Carolina's nuclear plants

View NC Nuclear Plants in a larger map


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  • wattsun Mar 16, 2011

    Duke, Progress Energy,
    Please before expanding .. How about fixing a potential catastrophe to our way of life here in NC ?
    Everyone please take a minute to read.
    The Looming Nuclear Nightmare in the Backwoods of North Carolina.

    The resulting fire would be virtually unquenchable. Moreover, because the water system that feeds the waste pools is also connected to the Shearon Harris reactor, a pool fire could also trigger a nuclear meltdown. And so it goes.

    An uncontrolled pool fire and meltdown at Shearon Harris would put more than two million residents of this rapidly growing section of North Carolina in extreme peril. A recent study by the Brookhaven Labs, not known to overstate nuclear risks, estimates that a pool fire could cause 140,000 cancers, contaminate thousands of square miles of land, and cause over $500 billion in off-site property damage.

  • ConcernedNCC Mar 16, 2011

    During Tuesday's meeting, some citizens feared the cost of the plant would be passed on to customers in the form of rate increases.

    Duhhh! ALL costs of utilities or any other company are passed to the customers. That's how they make money, not by paying for things from their own pocket.

  • godnessgracious Mar 16, 2011

    bloomberg report for my citation that fossil fuel gets 557 billion in federal subsidies. This is your taxpayer money going to support big oil. You love free markets? you need to write your congress and demand the federal fossil fuel subsidies end.

  • godnessgracious Mar 16, 2011

  • godnessgracious Mar 16, 2011

    How can you compare susidized energy against unsubsidized energy? Until they remove the 557 billion a year in fossil fuel subsidies nobody has any right to say that wind or solar or any other energy is too expensive. Also we need to put a price on the emmission of carbon. Once we do these two things we can begin to compare fairly and make rational decisions. Most of the people that say renewables are too costly are simply ignorant of these facts, or more deviously they are not.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Mar 15, 2011

    "Duke said it won't proceed with the project unless North Carolina changes state law so that it can start charging consumers before the nuclear plant is completed."

    Read carefully: "...start charging consumers BEFORE the nuclear plant is completed."

  • TomLynda Mar 15, 2011



  • james27613 Mar 15, 2011

    The media also talks too much about Chernobyl disaster.
    The reactor complex used obsolete graphite blocks, no containment vessel or containment buildings like the USA, Japan, France, etc uses.

    Important is the fact that when the seismic sensors detected the earthquake starting, the automatic systems engaged the
    shutdown procedures to stop the nuclear reaction in the vessels.
    All of this is fully automatic, if nobody was there it still
    will shutdown.

    The problem Tokyo Power has is with the heat buildup from the
    core in each reactor, the decay heat, and that is the problem.

  • hi_i_am_wade Mar 15, 2011

    "Folks I implore you, if you haven't looked at getting solar panels in a while, the prices have dropped a lot in the past 6 months, it could really save you some loot, and really help us out in the long run."

    I did recently. It would take me 3 decades to get my investment back. Yeah, that sound reasonable. The fact is, the best solar panel in the lab is about 25% efficient, much less efficient so on production solar panels.

    And about windmills. People who live near them have health problems due to the rhythmic vibrations. But let us assume people did not health problems because of them. Did you know wind power requires the wind? It is true! And not just any wind, it can't be too slow or too fast. Oh, and by the way, wind mills are murder on birds, especially migratory birds. At best, wind power is a supplement. It can never, EVER be a replacement.

    The fact is, fossil fuels and nuclear fuel is still the cheapest form of energy. It will be for a long time.

  • UNCfuturealumi Mar 15, 2011

    I have recently experienced some terrible problems with my lighting from the transformer to my home. I cannot say how many days that Duke Energy was in the area, for weeks, trying to find the problem..How can they have the intelligence to continue to build nuclear plants when it takes weeks to fine that a squirrel is stripping the lines..