The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said on Dec. 21 that it has issued combined construction-and-operating licenses (COLs) for Duke Energy’s proposed two-unit William States Lee III nuclear plant in Gaffney, S.C.

The project, named for long-time Duke executive Bill Lee, would use Westinghouse’s AP1000 design and be located adjacent to the abandoned Cherokee nuclear plant that Duke gave up on in the early 1980s. Duke first proposed the Lee plant in early 2006 and submitted its application for the COLs in 2007.

The NRC certified the AP1000 design in 2011. Four AP1000 reactors are currently under construction in the U.S., two at Southern’s Plant Vogtle in Georgia and two at South Carolina Electric & Gas’s V.C. Summer project in South Carolina.

Duke was noncommittal about the future of the Lee project in a statement after the NRC decision was released.

“Duke Energy continues to regard new nuclear as a viable option for future generation and understands the importance of fuel diversity in creating a sustainable energy future,” spokeswoman Rita Sipe told the Charlotte Observer.

“We evaluate new generation based on, among other factors, energy needs, project costs, carbon regulation, natural gas prices, and existing or future legislative provisions for cost recovery. The ultimate decision and timing of Lee will be based on what is in the best interest of our customers and will be founded on the best information available at the time we make the decision.”

The most recent cost estimate for completing the Lee plant came to $11 billion. Duke has spent about $500 million on preconstruction costs so far.

—Thomas W. Overton JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).

Photo of the McGuire Nuclear Station courtesy Duke Energy.