Governor Youngkin’s recently released Virginia Energy Plan offers a bold new direction for Virginia. He embraces one of the cleanest, most reliable sources of energy in the world: nuclear.
As a recent Dominion Energy retiree who worked in the nuclear group for 37 years, I have seen firsthand the immense benefits and potential of nuclear power. The governor’s “moonshot” would put our commonwealth, especially rural localities in Southwest Virginia, in the driver’s seat yet again for an emerging source of energy innovation. (Disclosure: Dominion is one of our donors but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy).
Leaders from both political parties have recognized new and existing nuclear technologies must play a central role in securing America’s clean energy goals and maintaining grid security and reliability.
Governor Youngkin acknowledged this during his recent visit to Southwest Virginia where he toured the Energy DELTA Lab site and met with stakeholders to discuss how nuclear and other clean energy solutions can be placed there. He also discussed his desire to work with private industry partners to capitalize on existing technology to produce nuclear generated electricity in Southwest Virginia in the next ten years.
Thankfully, we are fortunate in Virginia to be home to some of the most experienced companies in the nuclear industry, including Framatome, BWX Technologies, and the Norfolk Naval Station — all of which have been operating for decades. Dominion Energy has also safely operated the North Anna and Surry nuclear power stations for over 40 years. The two plants are the largest supplier of emission-free electricity in Virginia, emitting no greenhouse gases and combined provide the commonwealth with nearly a third of our electrical supply.
While opponents have been quick to cite the disposal of spent nuclear fuel as a major concern, I can attest the problem with storing it is not a technological problem – it’s political. Employees undergo countless hours of training and are well-equipped to carry out their duties with military-like precision.
After all, nearly 20 percent of nuclear utility employees are veterans. These workers store the spent fuel safely and securely in concrete and steel casks primarily on the grounds of operating reactors, and it poses no threat.
With these benefits in mind, I applaud the Governor for not just saying nuclear is important but for proposing a plan to expand Virginia’s nuclear portfolio by building small modular reactors (SMR).
These advanced reactors are just as safe as larger plants but have smaller physical footprints, allowing them to be constructed in areas unsuitable for large reactors, like abandoned mine lands in Southwest Virginia. With his continued support, we can take advantage of existing clean energy technology to enhance our already impressive nuclear industry that employs an estimated 100,000 people and provides billions in revenue in Virginia.
From both an economic growth and human welfare perspective, our commonwealth’s nuclear energy supply is essential to our future. Virginia is currently a net importer of energy. With a Governor intent on bringing back jobs and growing Virginia’s population, we can expect our energy consumption to continue to rise.
Expanding our nuclear energy capabilities is the only way to ensure we maintain the clean, reliable, affordable energy grid that the market demands.
I hope the public and the rest of our elected leaders will also embrace nuclear energy innovation and the countless benefits that come with it.