Seeking carbon-free power, Virginia utility considers small nuclear reactors

Jul 10, 2024, 1:12 PM | Updated: 1:32 pm

Virginia’s largest utility said Wednesday that it will explore the possibility of using small nuclear reactors to help meet growing electricity demands while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Nuclear power has been emerging as an attractive option for states transitioning away from coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Proponents of a new generation of smaller reactors have said they’ll be cheaper and quicker to bring online.

There are no small modular reactors, known as SMRs, in operation in the U.S., according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent agency that oversees civilian uses of radioactive material.

A project to build the first SMR, in Idaho, was terminated last year following cost increases and a lack of subscribers. But a pilot project is underway in Tennessee, while Bill Gates and his energy company plan to build a commercial SMR plant in Wyoming.

Dominion Energy Virginia said Wednesday that it has asked SMR companies to evaluate the feasibility of developing a project at the site of its existing North Anna nuclear power plant outside Richmond.

Speaking near its cooling towers, Dominion CEO Robert Blue said nuclear power already makes up 90% of Virginia’s carbon-free electricity. A new state law allows the company to explore the use of SMRs, with associated costs capped at $1.40 per month for a typical residential customer.

Blue said he expects the cost impact to be much lower. Dominion serves about 2.7 million customers in Virginia. It has been erecting solar farms and is installing a massive windfarm off the coast of Virginia Beach.

A 2020 state law set a target for 100% of Virginia’s electricity to come from carbon-free sources by 2050. Speaking at Wednesday’s news conference, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said it’s important to embrace new technologies for power generation.

“We can’t build enough wind,” Youngkin said. “We can’t build enough solar in order to power the Virginia of the future. We need all of the above.”

A 2022 Associated Press survey of energy policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that a strong majority — about two-thirds — say nuclear will help replace fossil fuels.

But opponents, mostly in Democratic-led states, cite the cost of new reactors compared to installing wind turbines or solar panels, as well as safety concerns. There’s also the question of how to store hazardous nuclear waste.

Some environmentalists oppose small modular reactors for similar reasons. And a 2022 Stanford-led study found that SMRs will generate more waste than conventional reactors.

But interest in SMRs appears to be growing, even though one project was already canceled.

In January 2023, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the first design for one from Oregon-based NuScale Power. The company worked with a group of Utah utilities to demonstrate a six-reactor plant at the Idaho National Laboratory, generating enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes.

But the project was terminated in November. Costs had increased by more than 50% in two years to $89 per megawatt hour. And it was unlikely that enough local power providers would subscribe for the project to continue.

Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the commission, said Wednesday that the NuScale Power design remains certified and is available for companies to consider. Meanwhile, the commission has other designs for other locations under review.

For example, NRC has granted a construction permit to Kairos Power, which is building a test version of an SMR in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Burnell said. It also submitted an application for a larger test version on the same site.

Burnell said another application is under review from the company TerraPower, which is chaired by Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft. That project would use an SMR for a commercial power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

“We have several other reactor designers who are talking to us about potentially applying, either for other construction permits or to have their designs generically approved,” Burnell said. “So there are a lot of other names (of companies) that are in discussions with us. But no formal applications at this point.”

United States News

Actor Matthew McConaughey speaks at the 2024 summer meeting of the National Governors Association, ...

Associated Press

Actor Matthew McConaughey tells governors he is still mulling future run for political office

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Actor Matthew McConaughey continued to tease he might run for political office to a room full of governors Friday, joshing about drinking his brand of tequila with at least one of them the night before and taking advice from another to be himself if he ever does run. Whether the […]

4 minutes ago

Associated Press

Appeals court makes it harder to disqualify absentee ballots in battleground Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Absentee ballots still count in Wisconsin even if voters’ witnesses fail to give election clerks their full address, a state appeals court has ruled. The decision Thursday by the 4th District Court of Appeals is expected to expand the number of absentee ballots that will be counted in the battleground state […]

26 minutes ago

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper touts Medicaid expansion reaching 500,000 enrollees during a news co...

Associated Press

North Carolina’s Medicaid expansion program has enrolled 500,000 people in just 7 months

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — More than 500,000 North Carolina residents have enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion program since it went live about seven months ago, officials announced Friday. Gov. Roy Cooper, joined by North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley and two health care professionals held a news conference to […]

27 minutes ago

Pre-Columbian artifacts from Mexico are displayed as part of the 'Repatriation and Its Impact' exhi...

Associated Press

Small Nashville museum wants you to know why it is returning artifacts to Mexico

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Bonnie Seymour took a job as assistant curator of Nashville’s Parthenon museum, one of the first things she did was to look through the collections. Among paintings by American artists and memorabilia from Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition — the event for which the Parthenon was built — she found a […]

31 minutes ago

FILE - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks before President Joe Biden at the Earth Rider Brewe...

Associated Press

Sen. Klobuchar says she’s cancer-free but will get radiation as precaution after a spot removal

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Friday that she remains cancer-free following her bout with breast cancer in 2021, but doctors recently removed a small calcification and that she’ll get radiation treatment as a precaution. The Minnesota Democrat, who chairs the powerful Rules Committee, was successfully treated for early-stage breast cancer three years […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

An Ohio mom was killed while trying to stop the theft of a car that had her 6-year-old son inside

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio mother who tried to stop two men from stealing her car with her 6-year-old son inside was killed when the vehicle struck her. The boy was unharmed, police said, and no other injuries were reported. Alexa Stakely, 29, of Pickerington, was at an apartment complex in Columbus to pick […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Seeking carbon-free power, Virginia utility considers small nuclear reactors