Dominion applies for license extension for North Anna nuclear units

Dominion Energy's North Anna Nuclear Power Station in Louisa County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Dominion Energy announced Friday it has applied for a second renewal of its licenses for two nuclear reactors at Lake Anna in Louisa County, underlining the robust role nuclear is likely to continue playing in Virginia during a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. 

The move follows a renewal application Dominion submitted in 2018 to extend the lifetime of its Surry reactors through 2052 and 2053, extensions still under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

If approved, the North Anna units would be allowed to operate until 2058 and 2060, bringing their lifetimes to 80 years. Originally licensed for the standard 40 years granted U.S. reactors, the North Anna units’ licenses were renewed for an additional 20 years in 2003.

“Renewing the licenses for both of our nuclear units in Virginia is critical to the company meeting the Virginia Clean Economy Act’s requirements for zero-carbon electricity by 2045 as well as the company’s net zero by 2050 commitment,” said Dominion Chief Nuclear Officer Dan Stoddard in a company statement. 

The utility’s application was expected: Dominion notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it intended to submit the request in November 2017. 

While still held at arms’ length by many environmentalists after highly publicized reactor meltdowns at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in the Soviet Union, nuclear is increasingly being eyed as an essential component of states’ clean energy portfolios.

Virginia’s General Assembly has embraced the fuel, which today constitutes about a third of the commonwealth’s electric generation portfolio. Gov. Ralph Northam this spring signed into law legislation declaring nuclear energy “a clean energy source” and clarifying that nuclear is also under state law considered “carbon-free energy.” 

Another new law directed the state to develop a strategic plan, due Oct. 1, for including nuclear energy in Virginia’s carbon-free goals. And the Democrat-championed landmark Virginia Clean Economy Act, which sets mandatory annual targets for utilities’ clean energy use, exempts nuclear from its targets, assuming the fuel will continue to be part of companies’ portfolios over the next few decades.