3rd guilty plea in South Carolina nuclear project failure

FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2016 file photo, parts of a containment building for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station is shown near Jenkinsville, S.C., during a media tour of the facility. A former official for the contractor hired to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer plant that were never completed, pleaded guilty Thursday, June 10, 2021, to lying to federal authorities.(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2016 file photo, parts of a containment building for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station is shown near Jenkinsville, S.C., during a media tour of the facility. A former official for the contractor hired to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer plant that were never completed, pleaded guilty Thursday, June 10, 2021, to lying to federal authorities.(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A former official for the contractor hired to build two South Carolina nuclear reactors that were never completed pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to federal authorities.

Carl Churchman entered the plea in federal court, court records show.

Churchman was the project director for Westinghouse Electric Co., the lead contractor to build two new reactors at the V.C. Summer plant. South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. parent company SCANA Corp. and state-owned utility company Santee Cooper spent nearly $10 billion on the project before halting construction in 2017 following Westinghouse’s bankruptcy.

The failure cost ratepayers and investors billions and left nearly 6,000 people jobless.

Churchman pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal officials, according to court records. Allowed to remain free on bond pending his sentencing, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine and has agreed to help authorities with their ongoing investigation.

Churchman lied to an FBI agent in 2019, saying that he had not been involved in communicating the project timeline with utility executives, authorities said. But, according to officials, Churchman repeatedly emailed colleagues at Westinghouse about project completion dates, which he reported to executives in 2017.

In another interview last month, Churchman admitted his initial statements had been lies, according to prosecutors.

“This guilty plea shows that the investigation into the V.C. Summer nuclear debacle did not end with the former SCANA executives,” Acting U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart said in a statement. “We are committed to seeing this case through and holding all individual and corporate wrongdoers accountable.”