Oct. 4—Southwest Virginia may be the site of a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) under Gov. Glenn Youngkin's new plan for energy's future in the commonwealth.
Youngkin unveiled his 2022 Virginia Energy Plan on Monday, saying all forms of energy should be embraced, but the deadline to be all renewable by 2050 is unrealistic and too expensive.
That was the target date for former Gov. Ralph Northam's Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) goal of 100 percent zero-carbon energy generation.
Youngkin wants instead a measured approach with intermediate steps and utilizing all forms of energy.
"We must reject the mindset that it is 'either/or' and embrace the reality that it is 'both/and.'" he said. "In fact, the only way to confidently move towards a reliable, affordable and clean energy future in Virginia is to go all-in on innovation in nuclear, carbon capture, and new technology like hydrogen generation, along with building on our leadership in offshore wind and solar."
The plan recommends the commonwealth make strategic investments in innovative, emerging technologies, including hydrogen, carbon capture, storage and utilization, and, particularly, small modular nuclear reactors (SMR). The Plan supports funding to initiate the goal of deploying a commercial SMR in Southwest Virginia within 10 years.
An SMR is an advanced nuclear reactor that has about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors.
The plan's goal is to become the nation's leader in SMR technology. Accordingly, the plan advocates for the development of the first commercial SMR in the U.S. in Southwest Virginia and calls for developing spent nuclear fuel recycling technologies that offer the promise of a zero-carbon emission energy system with minimal waste and a closed-loop supply chain.
The state will work with government, industry and academic partners to "develop a plan to deploy a commercial small modular nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia within 10 years."
No specific location has yet been determined for the SMR, but Del. James W. "Will" Morefield, R-Tazewell County, has some reservations about the idea.
"Small nuclear reactors are promising but a great deal of research must be conducted and other factors such as environmental and safety issues must be strongly considered," he said. "Japan and other countries around the world focused heavily on nuclear and renewable energy. They have experienced the dangers of nuclear energy and the expense of renewable energy with several of them now focusing on building new coal-fired power plants."
Morefield said another concern would be access to uranium.
"It's unfortunate, but most of the world's largest suppliers of uranium are not located in the United States," he said. "If Virginia is going to be serious about building more nuclear reactors we must first lift the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia."
But Morefield is supportive of the overall energy plan.
"I am encouraged by his plan and hopefully several of the items he and his administration have highlighted will come to fruition, but most will require legislative approval," he said. "With Republicans controlling the majority in the House and Democrats controlling the Senate a great deal of comprise will have to be met. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly and the Governor to ensure that Southwest Virginia will benefit from this plan."
Morefield said Republican and Democrat policy makers realize that fossil fuels will not last forever.
"If we are going to focus on the use of alternative sources of energy it must be done in manner that is cost effective and not a burden on people who are struggling to pay their utility bills." he said.
Youngkin said the plan takes that into account.
"A growing Virginia must have reliable, affordable and clean energy for Virginia's families and businesses," he said in announcing the plan. "We need to shift to realistic and dynamic plans. The 2022 Energy Plan will meet the power demands of a growing economy and ensures Virginia has that reliable, affordable, clean and growing supply of power by embracing an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes natural gas, nuclear, renewables and the exploration of emerging sources to satisfy the growing needs of Commonwealth residents and businesses."
Youngkin said retiring baseload generation in favor of solar and wind will reduce Virginia's electricity reliability.
"Nuclear is nearly three times more reliable than both wind and solar," he said. "As a result, the industrial world relies on continuous baseload generators such as natural gas, nuclear and coal. Cost, technical concerns related to utility scale storage, and transmission upgrades demand prudence before removing current baseload capacity."
The plan said VCEA's mandates are an" inflexible, 30-year determination with a prescribed route that currently cannot be delivered and do not contain any guidelines ensuring reasonable energy costs for Virginian consumers."
Youngkin said VCEA depends on Virginia outsourcing reliable baseload capacity to other states, many of which have a high percentage of coal and natural gas generation, and increasing Virginia's dependence on electricity imports. As a result, supply and transmission of energy to Virginia homes and businesses has the potential to become less reliable than today.
House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, Scott County, released a statement about the SMR.
"I want to thank Governor Youngkin for the release of his 2022 Virginia Energy Plan, which outlines a reliable, affordable energy future and includes several exciting opportunities for Southwest Virginia," he said. "His endorsement of small modular nuclear reactors supports a technology that can innovate and revitalize abandoned coal mines and diversify Southwest Virginia's economy."
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