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A feasibility study that identifies seven potential sites has determined that far Southwest Virginia has the capabilities to be a “competitive hosting ground” for small modular nuclear reactors, officials with the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission announced Monday.
“This particular community ranks as high or higher than almost any other project that’s currently either under consideration or under construction toward putting one of these facilities in place — so very high marks in that regard,” said Mike Little, president of Dominion Engineering Inc. of Reston, which was hired to conduct the study. (Dominion Engineering is not related to Dominion Energy).
The study also suggests that a small nuclear reactor, or SMR, be developed along with a data center because they are “synergistic industries.” An SMR needs a customer for its power and data centers need clean, reliable energy, the study states.
A news conference announcing the results of the study was held Monday at the LENOWISCO office in Duffield and via Zoom.
The analysis took place over three months and looked at technical feasibility, safety considerations, economic viability and preliminary sites in the LENOWISCO area of Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the city of Norton, plus Dickenson County.
It was funded by the Virginia Department of Energy and GO Virginia Region One.
“We are thrilled to have completed this study, which holds great promise for transforming the energy landscape not only in Southwest Virginia but throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Duane Miller, LENOWISCO’s executive director, said in a news release. “Small Modular Reactors have the potential to provide a source of safe, stable, and sustainable energy, enabling transformational economic growth, improving quality of life and complimenting the region’s existing energy generating portfolio.”
Last October, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced he planned to put an SMR in Southwest Virginia as part of his new energy plan within 10 years. He said that it would be an economic boon for an area hit hard by the downturn in the coal industry, and that former coal mine land could be used for an SMR site.
SMRs are smaller, simpler versions of traditional nuclear reactors that produce about a third of the power produced by the big reactors. They can be built in a factory and shipped to a site, which saves construction time, reduces the risks and is cheaper.
A week after the governor’s announcement, LENOWISCO officials got busy raising money for the study so they could be prepared, Miller said.
The region is in a “prime position to attract new industries with inexpensive brownfield sites, mine water for cooling, existing right of way to transmissions infrastructure and existing rail infrastructure,” the study found. Because there are a number of vacant mining operations in the area, it also has the people needed and the infrastructure needed for “large civil construction projects,” according to the study.
The seven potential sites involved in the study were:
- Bullit Mine complex in Wise County
- Limestone Mine, Scott County
- Lee County abandoned mined land site near the Wise County border
- Mineral Gap-Lonesome Pine Park in Wise County
- Project Intersection in Norton
- Red Onion in Dickenson County
- Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County
A variety of diverse sites were included in the study as representative of what’s available in the area: some larger, some smaller, some nearer to population areas and others with better connectivity. However, Miller said there are more than 100,000 acres of abandoned mine land in the area and other sites may be found and considered.
Selection of a site is a formal and lengthy process dictated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and it can take a year or two, said Chuck Marks with Dominion Engineering.
He added that it’s possible that half a dozen SMRs will be operating in far Southwest Virginia in 20 years as this country makes an energy transition toward cleaner power.
“Even one of these plants, let alone multiple plants coming to a region like this, can serve as an economic anchor for generations,” Marks said, adding that many of the jobs won’t require a college education and those that do won’t have to be nuclear engineers.
The study also looked at the competition — prospective SMR sites that are outside Southwest Virginia:
- The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant
- TVA’s Clinch River Nuclear site near Oak Ridge, Tennessee
- Dominion Energy’s North Anna Nuclear Generating Station in Louisa County
- Natrium Demonstration Site in Kemmerer, Wyoming
The next step will be seeking community involvement so everyone can learn more about SMRs, with Virginia Energy likely taking the lead role in community engagement and outreach, according to the study. There will also be close collaboration with stakeholders, including the public, local businesses and community leaders, Miller said.
Marks said the feasibility study released Monday represents the “very early stages of, does this region have what it takes to site one of these reactors, successfully deploy and successfully operate. And the answer is overwhelmingly yes.”