COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Last week's decision to shut down work on Fairfield County's VC Summer nuclear expansion project shocked construction and utility employees.
It also brought outrage from county and state leaders and calls for an investigation of the decision-making process by leadership at SCE&G and Santee Cooper. But it's not unusual for nuclear reactor construction efforts to fail.
Analysts, including former Vice President Al Gore, have noted that of the 253 nuclear power reactors originally ordered in the United States from 1953 to 2008, 48 percent were canceled.
In South Carolina's Cherokee County, Duke Energy started work in the 1970's to build three reactors at a site near Gaffney. The company spent some $650 million on construction before shutting down the project in the 1980's.
Duke cited factors including soaring costs and lower demand.
The company's decision also followed growing public mistrust of nuclear power in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. For 13 years after that incident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued no new permits for reactor construction.
Despite the agency's refusal to approve permits, Duke filed a request in 2006 to return to the former Cherokee Nuclear Station site, this time with a proposal to build two reactors close to the remnants of the original construction work.
In December 2016, the NRC approved licenses for the new reactors. Since then, the utility has spent more than a half billion dollars on pre-construction work.
But the project, now known as the William States Lee III Nuclear Station, still has an uncertain future. The site, part of it used for several years as the location for the Earl Owensby movie studios and the backdrop for the filming of underwater scenes for the 1989 movie The Abyss remains off limits to visitors and undeveloped. Nearby residents say they've seen few signs of activity on the property, which is surrounded by a chain link fence and locked gates.
Business owner Rudy Peterson says Duke's decision to abandon the first reactor project was "a shock" to the community, especially after the company had forced many who lived on the property to relocate.
Peterson says the initial phase of construction work disrupted the rural area and caused traffic congestion.
Former Cherokee Chamber of Commerce president Gayle White says many in the Gaffney area were excited by Duke's plan to resurrect the reactor project in 2006. She said some residents are concerned about the lack of activity since then.
"We are expecting something to happen," White said. "I can't imagine that Duke would close down the plan and decide not to build and I think the people would be very upset if they did."