The Daily Gamecock

USC to establish nuclear energy center

$900,000 General Atomics gift, $3 million in state funds to establish research arm

A $900,000 private donation — plus $3 million in state funds — will establish a center to develop and enhance nuclear energy at the University of South Carolina.

The announcement, made by a corps of university and national leaders at a frilly breakfast inside Thomas Cooper Library, will spur an immediate search for an endowed professor, said USC officials. The gift came from San Diego-based General Atomics, and the state funds were acquired through the Center of Economic Excellence program, funded through South Carolina Educational Lottery proceeds.

“There’s not a better place to start moving nuclear energy forward,” said John Parmentola, a senior vice president at the company. “This could change the future of nuclear energy.”

Parmentola said the current nuclear research at the university, coupled with the nearby Savannah River Site, made the university a unique choice for the partnership.

Researchers at the university will focus on the recycling of used fuel, waste reduction and faster and less expensive construction of nuclear plants.

The center will train a new crop of nuclear engineers with more skills to help build technology that guarantees future safety for nuclear plants, according to USC President Harris Pastides.

Those concerns are especially heightened in light of a March nuclear explosion at a Japanese plant, said Parmentola.

But nuclear power isn’t without its critics. That explosion brought more opposition to nuclear technology by Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

They say the technology poses an unacceptable risk to humans by creating unnecessary waste, heightening chances of a Chernobyl-type explosion and adding potential for more nuclear weapons.

A recent report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows South Carolina plants are already among the most at-risk for earthquake damage.

Currently, there are two new nuclear plants planned for the U.S., and one, operated by SCE&G, is set for Jenkinsville, S.C. It has faced several public hearings and  worries.

A mandatory federal hearing to determine whether the plant can move forward begins today in Maryland.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, long a proponent of nuclear energy, continued his push at the breakfast Tuesday.

Graham said 82 percent of France’s energy came from nuclear sources compared to only about 20 percent of the United States.

Graham praised Rep. Jim Clyburn, who also attended the breakfast, by saying he was “the most consistent, rational voice in the Democratic Party on nuclear energy.”

Clyburn returned the favor, saying he appreciated Graham leaving “fair and balanced and leaning forward” on nuclear energy.