Group fails to block Duke nuke plant

Environmentalists trying to block Duke Energy Corp.'s new nuclear plant project in Cherokee County, S.C., were denied on one front today.

The N.C. Utilities Commission said it would not reverse last year's decision it made that gave the Charlotte-based utility extra financial protection if the $6 billion nuclear project fails. Opponents include N.C. PIRG, Public Citizen and the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network.

The group had asked the commission to reverse its ruling that the utility could pass on $160 million in nuclear plant development costs to ratepayers, even if the plant is never built. N.C. law normally requires a power plant to be up and running before its full costs can be recovered from power customers though higher rates.

But Duke was financially burned by several failed projects in the 1980s and didn't want a repeat of history.

Duke chief executive Jim Rogers, who took over in 2006, said the utility probably wouldn't build another nuclear power facility without the exception to the law. Nuclear power can be too political and the planning costs too expensive for the utility to take the risk without protection, he said.

After the partial meltdown of Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979, interest in nuclear plants waned. About 60 plants across the country were scrapped, and billions of investment dollars were lost or passed on to consumers through rate increases.