Duke Energy wants to get approval to build two new nuclear reactors in Gaffney, SC, just south of Charlotte and only 60 miles from Asheville. The William States Lee III Nuclear Station would withdraw 47 million gallons of water per day (returning only 25% of that amount) from the Broad River. The river is already strained by power plant withdrawals both upstream and downstream.
Duke’s NC and SC ratepayers would pay for the $14 billion plant through their power bills; the company has already spent $261 million of ratepayer money on financing and licensing costs. Concerned residents packed a Nuclear Regulatory Commission public hearing on the proposed plant’s Environmental Impact Statement on January 19. Speakers discussed the hazards of nuclear waste and radiation, huge water withdrawals in a drought-prone region, and impacts to local communities and ecosystems. CWFNC has been reaching out to Gaffney residents who would be displaced by construction of back-up cooling ponds, many of them low-income, and we’ve discovered Duke has not communicated clearly with them about the plans. An Asheville-based alliance called SAFE Carolinas has formed to stop plant approval and construction, working with CWFNC and many other groups, along with activists in Polk County and in SC.
Energy production requires more water than any other human activity in our region, the classic example of an industry massively subsidized by free access to and degradation of a public resource. The proposed Lee Nuclear Station on the Broad River, near Gaffney, South Carolina, illustrates this problem perfectly. Of traditional energy production technologies, nuclear is the most water-intensive, consuming even more than coal –one of many grave concerns contributing to CWFNC’s continued opposition to nuclear power as a “solution” for climate change. In extended droughts, when power demand is often high, water-hogging power plants may not even be to operate.
The Broad River flows through western NC, losing water to cooling operations at the soon to be enlarged Cliffside coal plant, then travels through SC, where the proposed Lee Station would make a total of 5 reactors to be cooled. In addition to plant withdrawals of almost 50 million gallons a day of cooling water (only a quarter of which would return to the river), the Broad would lose roughly 5 ½ Billion gallons of water each year due to forced evaporation of heated water downstream of the plant, according to calculations by former CWFNC Duke Stanback intern Victoria Morton.
On June 17th, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public hearing in Gaffney to discuss potential impacts of the Lee Nuclear Station and a third cooling pond. Clean Water for NC, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the SC Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Palmetto Environmental Action Coalition were among many organizations and individuals who raised concerns with the proposal. The Broad’s drought vulnerability, the inadequacy of Duke Energy’s drought contingency plan, and downstream communities’ reliance on the Broad for drinking water were common complaints, as well as the dangers and costs of nuclear energy in general.
Despite the fact that hot discharges from power plants can decimate aquatic life, regulatory requirements are weak and erratic in NC wastewater permits. Several of NC’s largest plants aren’t even required to have a “variance” from the Clean Water Act’s allowed 5 degree temperature increase. They are permitted to have almost unlimited impacts on the “industrial cooling ponds” that they build. CWFNC and RiverKeeper groups are asking the EPA’s Inspector General to investigate the harmful effects of these thermal discharges and serious under-regulation by the NC Division of Water Quality.