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Nuke plan embarks on week-long grilling

Ah, nuclear power. Is it, as writer-thinker James Lovelock (The Revenge of Gaia) says, the only energy source that can replace fossil fuels and save civilization? Or is it, as many environmentalists warn, a dangerous and not-economically viable path toward the next Three Mile Island or Chernobyl?

Those are the questions likely to come up in South Carolina, where the Public Service Commission today launches into a week-long hearing on whether nuclear energy has a place in the state’s energy future.

At issue is a proposal by the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company (SCE&G) to build two new reactors at its existing nuclear facility in the town of Jenkinsville. The company says the new reactors, which carry a pricetag of $9.8 billion, could provide enough energy to power some 1.9 million homes.

Not surprisingly, environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club of South Carolina and the Southern Energy Network say the plan is more boondoggle than boon.

“(T)here are cheaper, cleaner alternatives, and we’re intervening in the case to say ‘NO THANKS!’ ” states the Sierra Club of South Carolina’s Website. In addition to concerns about safety, opponents say the proposed reactors would lead to “massive increases” in citizens’ utility bills.

According to the Miami Herald, South Carolina law allows electric companies to raise rates to help finance the construction of new nuclear facilities. SCE&G has proposed a 37-percent increase in rates phased in through 2019 to help pay for the two new reactors.

Which side will the state eventually rule for? Time will tell, though it’s worth noting that South Carolina already gets more electricity from nuclear power — about 52 percent — than most states in the U.S. (The national average is around 20 percent.)

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