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    Bills support state nuclear expansionBills support Virginia nuclear expansion

    March 19, 2023 - DAVID MCGEE Bristol Herald Courier


      RICHMOND-Much of the legislation aimed at expanding Virginia's nuclear power capabilities recently emerged from the General Assembly and support in Southwest Virginia remains high, Del. Israel O'Quinn said Friday.

      Last fall Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced an energy plan that included an emphasis on funding nuclear research with the intent of establishing a small modular nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia within a decade.

      O'Quinn bills HB 1779, establishing nuclear education grant funding, HB 1781 giving expanded authority to the Southwest Virginia R & D Authority and HB 2386, for power innovation funding all passed the House and Senate in some form and are awaiting Gov. Glenn Youngkin's signature.

      "I was very happy to see the bills I had get through. This is really exciting technology; something I think that has the possibility of helping us replace a lot of lost coal jobs. In Southwest Virginia we have the available land and people who want to stay here and work," O'Quinn said. "I think the time is right. The governor is behind this. The vast majority of the General Assembly is behind it. I think now is the time to put a lot of these building blocks into place and that's what we tried to do during the legislative session."

      HB 1779 was ultimately blended into SB 1464, carried by Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Warrenton, and won bipartisan approval 90-4 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate. O'Quinn said it could impact both the state's current nuclear infrastructure and potential growth in the future.

      It creates the Virginia Power Innovation Fund with funding to be used solely for the purposes of research and development of "innovative energy technologies, including nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture and utilization, and energy storage." According to the summary. The bill also creates the Virginia Power Innovation Program to use moneys from the Fund to establish a Virginia nuclear innovation hub and award competitive grants to support energy innovation.

      "That would allow grants to be given on a competitive basis to public or private institutions, which is sort of a departure from the norm where typically you only allow public institutions to do these sorts of things. Frankly, I think we need the capacity in Virginia and, if these institutions are willing to create instructional programs that will provide either degrees or credentials to support the nuclear power industry.

      "This could impact nuclear engineering and nuclear welding. We have a shortage of welders in Virginia - a massive shortage of nuclear welders. So, in addition to the economic activity and workforce needs that would be in a project like this in Southwest Virginia, you have places like Newport News Shipbuilding that works on projects like this on a regular basis. They need nuclear welders and nuclear engineers today where we're looking at needing these positions in a few years," O'Quinn said.

      HB 2386, which was ultimately approved 89-4 in the House and 39-1 in the Senate, would also be a competitive grant system to support innovation in emerging energy technologies like nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture which offer "unlimited potential for projects in Southwest Virginia," O'Quinn said.

      "I think there is a lot of excitement in Southwest Virginia," O'Quinn said. "With the job loss we've seen in the coal industry since 2009, we've got to find ways to backstop that job loss and this is absolutely one of the ways to do that. The [reactor] technology is relatively old but is something I think we can use on a larger scale in Southwest Virginia and, really in all of America."

      Two bills that didn't emerge from his session were HB 1780, which would have established a revenue sharing agreement between several Southwest Virginia localities and HB 2333 - carried by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville - which would have carved out $10 million to initiate an SMR pilot program. The original legislation was approved by both chambers but an amended version died in committee.

      "That one [HB2333] made it out of the House and the Senate but ended up getting sent to conference committee and the conferees for the House and Senate could not get on the same page so it ultimately failed to advance," O'Quinn said. "The governor could theoretically put budget language in to do some of this. I think you could see some version of the SMR pilot project come back next year. I expect you'll something on again on that."


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