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John Bazemore / AP

Top executives at the company behind two financially struggling nuclear reactors, which were halted earlier this week, tried but failed to get a federal grant totaling at least $1 billion and as much as $3 billion from the Trump administration, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The plea from SCANA Corp., the utility behind the pair of failed reactors in South Carolina, offers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes deliberations occurring between the Trump administration, which has spoken positively of nuclear power, and the industry facing mounting economic challenges. This was the most explicit opportunity the Trump administration had to show that its rhetoric would translate into action. It opted not to, largely because of the steep price tag.

The details:

  • The deliberations were revealed in a transcript newly released from a hearing earlier this week in which company executives testified front of the South Carolina Public Service Commission.
  • SCANA Corp. CEO Kevin Marsh said the Energy Department offered them a loan guarantee, but he said they needed not a loan but a grant of $1 billion to cover them in case its costs rose over the fixed price it had set with the commission. "We pursued that as hard as we could," Marsh said. "And we got no response."

But there's more: An Energy Department official Thursday said when SCANA officials were discussing the grant with the department in July, the request was for up to $3 billion to build the reactors. A request for comment to SCANA was not immediately returned.

"The Department of Energy did work with representatives of the [South Carolina] project to discuss potential paths forward with regards to the project's financial situation," said Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes. "A loan guarantee was a potential option for the company to consider which they ultimately chose not to pursue."

Some context: $1 to $3 billion is a hefty price tag for a grant, a type of federal aid that isn't typically paid back like a loan. Barack Obama gave out a lot of grants as part of the 2009 stimulus law but of much smaller size. For example, he gave $2.4 billion in grants for 48 separate electric vehicle projects. The scale and cost of nuclear power is much bigger than most other energy technologies, as evidenced by the $8.3 billion loan guarantee Obama gave another pair of struggling reactors in Georgia, backed by Southern Company.

What's next: The Energy Department official I spoke with indicated the outcome could be different with the Georgia reactors, given the existing loan guarantee relationship. "We have a fiduciary responsibility," the official said. "So any changes to the loan have to go through a process."

The big picture: The fate of Southern's two reactors are much greater than themselves. They are the only new ones under construction in the U.S. in some 30 years. Trump's decision to not help SCANA with its reactors dealt a blow to the industry, and what the Energy Department decides to do with Southern's reactors will be, at the risk of overstating it, a make or break it moment for the industry for the foreseeable future.

Go deeper

27 mins ago - World

Army to award Purple Hearts to troops injured in Iran missile attack

Damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing U.S. and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in January 2020. Photo: Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images

The Army has approved 39 more Purple Hearts for U.S. soldiers wounded in an Iranian military ballistic missile attack on an Iraq base in January 2020, the Army Times first reported Wednesday.

Why it matters: Most of these soldiers sustained brain injuries, per the Army Times. Then-President Trump dismissed their injuries at the time as "headaches" and "not very serious," sparking backlash from some veterans groups.

Scoop: U.S. begins denying Afghan immigrants

Afghan refugees on a bus bound for temporary housing after arriving in Greece. Photo: Byron Smith/Getty Images

The Biden administration has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to emigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process, after a system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

Why it matters: Afghans face steeper odds and longer processes for escaping to the U.S., despite the earlier sweeping efforts by the Biden administration to assist its allies. Immigration lawyers and advocacy groups say the government has set untenable barriers to a safe haven in the U.S.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems invoke Robert Byrd to sell Manchin on Senate rules changes

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Diana Walker, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A small group of Senate Democrats is privately invoking the legacy of late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd in an effort to sway Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support their plans to change the chamber's rules, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Manchin — who holds Byrd's Senate seat — has often referenced his predecessor's strong moral conviction and insistence on preserving the Senate as an institution, as justification for some of his tough positions.