If you can’t build it, buy it.

One of the largest US power providers is angling for a minority interest in another firm’s planned new nuclear units in South Carolina, the companies told their regulators.

Duke Energy is working on building its own reactor at the proposed 2,234 MW Lee Nuclear Station, also in South Carolina, and says it still anticipated receiving its combined construction and operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in “the 2013 time frame.”

In the meantime, it has also signed a letter of intent with South Carolina generator Santee Cooper to take 5-10% of the planned capacity of two new nuclear reactors planned for the existing 1,000MW single-reactor VC Summer nuclear power plant north of Columbia, SC. Santee Cooper was granted an extension on its operating license in 2004 and is now cleared to operate VC Summer through 2042.

The new planned capacity at VC Summer would include two 1,117MW nuclear units, and are also pending approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Santee Cooper already only has a minority 45% stake in the two units, but that piece alone is expected to cost $4.5 billion (in 2007 dollars).

Santee Cooper is building the unit in a partnership with South Carolina Electric & Company, a subsidiary of SCANA.

While Duke was careful to emphasize that it is not abandoning its own nuclear plans, including the new green field Lee plant facility in Cherokee County just south of the state line with North Carolina, industry experts concede it will be easier to permit nuclear power additions at existing sites in the wake of the Fukushima crisis in Japan than it will be to build entirely new units in communities unaccustomed to living near nuclear power plants.

Duke has run into opposition to the plant over cost rather than safety factors in its progress through the complex and lengthy permitting process so far – the facility was first proposed in 2007. A consortium of North Carolina advocacy groups has blanketed the state with advertising opposing the rate hikes that have been proposed to pay for the new Lee nuclear facility.