Nuclear Energy in South Carolina

Christian White
March 17, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Oconee Nuclear Station. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

South Carolina houses four nuclear plants and produces 97% emission-free power from nuclear energy and generates 50% of its electricity through nuclear energy, making it one of the top 10 states that run on nuclear power. [1] South Carolina is part of a region that has more nuclear reactors than any other region in the US and with its four, it could be called a nuclear epicenter of its region. [2]

Oconee Nuclear Station

Oconee Nuclear Station (Fig. 1), located on Lake Keowee in Seneca, South Carolina, opened commercial operation in 1973. The plant has three units which function as pressurized water reactors. Oconee has a station capacity of 2554 megawatts, which is enough to power 1.9 million homes. [3] It has accrued a number of achievements since it began operating. These include being the first accredited operator training program in the country, the first nuclear station to generate 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, the first nuclear station to achieve 3 million safe work hours, and achieving the distinction of being the second nuclear station in the US to have its license renewed by the NRC for an additional 20 years. [3] Oconee Nuclear Station uses uranium as its fuel, taking advantage of nuclear fission to generate electricity. [3]

At the end of July 2017, Santee Cooper and South Carolina Gas & Electric decided to discontinue a project to build two reactors, citing delays and cost overruns. This project was expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology according the NY Times. [4] To date, the reactors had cost utilities roughly $9 billion and unfortunately remain less than 40% built this means that while numerous nuclear plants are being shutdown because of low natural gas prices, only two more nuclear units are being built in the country (both in the US). The energy landscape has changed drastically since the reactors were proposed in 2007 as demand for energy has plummeted at the hands of improvements in energy efficiency. All of this boils down to the two reactors being less than worth it, as they would not be able to produce electricity before 2021 and sum to a cost of nearly $25 more than twice the proposed amount of $11.5 billion. The halting of the VC Summer plant is not new to those in South Carolinas nuclear history, as bad legislation namely the Base Load Review Act of 3007 reminded South Carolinians of the 1970s when the burden for cost was placed on rate payers and SCG&Es liability was limited. [2]

© Christian White. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. Zajac, "The 10 States That Run on Nuclear Power," NBC News, 23 Feb 12.

[2] C. Peyton, "The South's Legacy of Abandoned Nuclear Reactors," The State, 7 Nov 17.

[3] "Oconee Nuclear Station Fact Sheet ," Duke Energy, January 2018.

[4] B. Plumer, "US Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors are Abandoned," New York Times, 31 Jul 17.