Westinghouse Electric Company plans to expand operations at its Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF), located in Hopkins, S.C., with an investment of $131 million over the next five years. The project, announced on December 15 by South Carolina governor Henry McMaster’s office, includes upgrades to equipment and procedures, as well as enhancements to the CFFF’s pollution prevention systems and controls. The investment will expand automation and digitalization at the facility, improving inspection capabilities and product quality, according to the governor's office. Westinghouse expects to complete the project by January 2026.
In operation since 1969, the CFFF houses fuel manufacturing facilities, product engineering and testing laboratories, and fuel marketing and contract administration services. Approximately 10 percent of U.S. electricity comes from nuclear fuel manufactured at the CFFF.
The official words: “We believe this investment is a critical element of our long-term growth and risk-reduction strategy to better serve and protect our customers, community, and employees,” said Michael Annacone, Westinghouse vice president of Columbia fuel operations. “We are very grateful for the continued support of Richland County and the state of South Carolina in this effort and throughout our 52-year history in the region.”
Governor McMaster remarked, “South Carolina continues to show that we truly are the place to do business, and this $131 million investment is a further testament to that. We’ve worked hard to provide in-state businesses with a highly trained workforce that meets their demands, and because of that, we are finding success.”
Background: Westinghouse submitted a license renewal application for the CFFF to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in December 2014 (the current license expires in 2027), and in June 2018, the agency published a final environmental assessment (EA) and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI).
The next month, however, the company discovered that uranium had leaked into the soil through a three-inch hole in the facility’s concrete floor. In addition, Westinghouse initiated an investigation, under the purview of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), into a similar uranium leak at the site in 2011.
This information, and the public’s concerns arising from the leaks, led the NRC to reopen its environmental review of the CFFF application. The agency withdrew its EA and FONSI and announced the publication of an updated draft EA for public review and comment. Following the draft EA’s comment period, NRC staff determined that “after considering new information provided by Westinghouse related to the remedial investigations being conducted under a consent agreement with the SCDHEC,” it could not issue a FONSI.
In June 2020, NRC staff informed Westinghouse that it would be preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the CFFF application. The regulatory requirements for an EIS are more detailed and rigorous than for an EA.
In late July of this year, the NRC published its draft EIS, which included a preliminary recommendation that Westinghouse’s application for a 40-year license renewal be approved.