In the gymnasium of an elementary school in Blair, South Carolina, staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gathered to listen to public comment on the potential environmental impact of two new nuclear reactors proposed for construction V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in nearby Jenkinsville. “You have insight and knowledge that we don’t,” NRC Project Manager William Burton told the crowd of around 100 people. “We want you to participate in this decision. An educated consumer is our best customer.”
After a short presentation by NRC staff, Jenkinsville Mayor Gregory Ginyard was not impressed. “I live a mile and a half from the plant,” he stated. “I’m the mayor. They want me to represent them. And I don’t know what you want. Where I live we don’t have environmentalists. You guys need to educate us. The people of Jenkinsville, we are on the front lines.”
Ginyard, 52, grew up in Jenkinsville and has lived in this small, predominately African-American town all of his life, half of which he has spent in the shadow of V.C. Summer’s nuclear reactor, which was built in the late 1970s and came on line in 1982. At that time, South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) confiscated 60 acres from his father’s property for the plant, compensating the family $1,000 per an acre. Now as the first mayor of the newly incorporated town of Jenkinsville, he is caught in the middle of a battle between two utility companies and South Carolina’s small but energetic community of anti-nuclear activists, in a battle of national importance. If the plans of the privately operated SCE&G and unregulated state utility Santee-Cooper go forward, V.C. Summer Reactors 2 and 3 will likely be the first new commercial reactors in the United States to begin construction in almost 30 years.
Ginyard is not the only Jenkinsville politician concerned about the proposed expansion. Kamau Marcharia is a community activist on the Fairfield County Council. He is wary about how two new reactors will affect his community. “It’s a ten billion dollar contract,” explains Marcharia. “Out of 10 billion dollars I want to know how many minority contracts they’re going to give. I want to know how people are going to help this community with its infrastructure. Right now we have no health center and no modern fire station. I want to know how they’re going to help us with this. I want to know how they are going to improve the roads when four to six thousand people work here on construction for seven years. I want to know how they are going to make this community safer.”
These are reasonable concerns for this poor, aging community. The town’s average annual household income is only $24,000 and the average resident of Jenkinsville is almost forty years old. The first reactor at V.C. Summer has failed to produce prosperity for the town. “Thirty years ago when the plant came, Jenkinsville was pretty rural and people were pretty much uninformed. It was just like today, but we had more in this community back then. There were three stores and other things that were closed down and boarded up. Jenkinsville is worse off today than when the plant moved in.” Continue reading