V.C. Summer aerial (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

An aerial view of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Generating Station in Jenkinsville. File/Provided/SCANA Corp.

The massive $9 billion failure to expand a Fairfield County nuclear plant has caught the attention of federal investigators. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office in South Carolina subpoenaed documents from SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper, and the office received a copy of a highly-critical construction audit from Gov. Henry McMaster.

News of the federal probe does not surprise South Carolina legislators, who have formed two special committees to examine the project abandoned mid-construction on July 31.

"Something else is at play. We're not getting the full story," state Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican, said in echoing themes of questioning of utility executives by legislators.

McMaster sent the audit to investigators at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office on Sept. 5, spokesman Brian Symmes said Thursday. The governor's office said it did not receive a subpoena for the report, which cited waste and lack of oversight at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station construction site.

McMaster received the 130-page audit, performed by the engineering firm Bechtel, on Sept. 4 after demanding it from state-owned Santee Cooper. SCANA, which is publicly traded, objected to the Bechtel report's release, saying the findings would be used in lawsuits.

Neither SCANA, the parent of majority nuclear project owner South Carolina Electric & Gas, nor Santee Cooper offered many details on the federal subpoenas issued Thursday.

"The subpoena requires the company to produce a broad range of documents related to the project," Cayce-based SCANA said in a statement. "The company intends to cooperate with the government's investigation. No assurance can be given as to the timing or outcome of this matter."

A Santee Cooper spokeswoman said the Moncks Corner-based utility intends "to fully cooperate and comply with the request for documents."

Separately, two of the project's primary contractors — Westinghouse Electric Co. and Fluor Corp. — said Thursday they hadn't heard from federal prosecutors about the project. A third, Chicago Bridge & Iron, couldn't be reached for comment.

No public documents related to the SCANA and Santee Cooper orders have been filed in federal court, according to an online search.

Meanwhile, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has reviewed the Bechtel report, but his spokesman had no further comment Thursday.

The Attorney General's office is expected to issue an opinion next week on whether a state law that allowed SCE&G to recoup construction costs from ratepayers while construction took place is constitutional and whether lawmakers can change the 2007 law to repay customers for an abandoned project. 

The formal involvement by federal authorities comes less than two months after SCANA and Santee Cooper abandoned the V.C. Summer expansion following years of delays and cost overruns. The utilities spent about $9 billion on the two partially finished reactors that were supposed to provide clean power for their customers for decades to come. More than 5,000 employees lost their jobs when the utilities pulled the plug.

SCANA owned 55 percent of the project. Santee Cooper owned the rest.

Thad Moore contributed to this story.

Thad Moore of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott

Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.