Ex-Westinghouse executive charged in failed nuclear project – Reuters

  • Prosecutors say Benjamin hid cost overruns of failed project
  • 16 counts carry maximum 20 years imprisonment, $5 mln fine
  • Benjamin’s lawyer says client innocent

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Aug 20 – A former top executive of U.S. nuclear plant maker Westinghouse Electric Co has been charged with 16 felony counts for his alleged role in concealing cost overruns and delays that dogged the now-abandoned construction of two nuclear reactors in South Carolina that was once hailed as the start of the U.S. nuclear renaissance.

A grand jury charged Jeffrey Benjamin, a former Westinghouse senior vice president, in an indictment filed in Columbia, South Carolina federal court on Wednesday with counts including conspiracy and wire fraud for allegedly hiding the damaging information from the owners of the V.C. Summer project in Jenkinsville, South Carolina.

Benjamin’s lawyer, William Sullivan of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, in a statement called the charges “baseless” and said he was confident a jury would find his client innocent.

Benjamin is the fourth individual to be charged in connection to an ongoing investigation of the circumstances surrounding the failed project, which cost $9 billion before being scrapped. The other individuals have pleaded guilty, according to the Department of Justice. The other individuals are Kevin Marsh, who was chief executive of SCANA Corp, one of the project’s owners; Stephen Byrne, an ex-executive vice president also with SCANA; and former Westinghouse vice president Carl Churchman, the DOJ said.

Westinghouse spokesperson Sheriece Matias Dick said the company cannot comment on legal matters.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina M. Rhett DeHart said in a statement: “Our commitment to investigate and prosecute the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle has never wavered.”

The indictment says that between 2016 and 2017, Benjamin “made materially false and misleading statements in an effort to continue the Project by minimizing the Project’s failures.”

He directly supervised all Westinghouse’s new nuclear projects including the V.C. Summer project, according to the DOJ.

The misrepresentations resulted in billions of dollars in losses to the project’s owners, SCANA and Santee Cooper, the indictment says.

State-owned Santee Cooper did not immediately respond to a request for comment. SCANA spokespeople could not immediately be reached for comment.

The charges against Benjamin carry a maximum of 20 years behind bars and a $5 million fine, the DOJ said.

SCANA and Santee Cooper said in 2017 they would abandon the twin-reactor V.C. Summer project, a year after it was expected to begin producing power. It was less than 40% complete.

The case is USA v. Benjamin, U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, No. 3:21-cr-00525.

For USA: Brook Andrews with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

For Benjamin: William Sullivan of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

(This story has been updated with comment from Benjamin’s lawyer.)

Read more:

Former SCANA exec to plead guilty to fraud over failed nuclear-project

Utilities ditch reactors that launched U.S. nuclear renaissance

Scana CEO to step down after failed nuclear project

Dominion Energy unit reaches deal to settle SEC case over nuclear project

Sebastien Malo reporters on environmental, climate and energy litigation. Reach him at sebastien.malo@thomsonreuters.com

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