The Bulletin

Youngkin to propose funding for small modular nuclear reactors

By: - October 15, 2022 12:38 pm

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

Within two weeks of rolling out a Virginia energy plan that included a push for new nuclear development, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced plans for a multimillion dollar investment in the energy source.

Youngkin said Friday he will include in his budget proposal at the end of the year $10 million for a new Virginia Power Innovation Fund, with half of it earmarked for the development of a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) in Southwest Virginia within 10 years.

The General Assembly must approve any budget proposals from the governor.

“This is our moment to lead,” Youngkin said. “So let’s get to work.”

The funds would go toward making Southwest Virginia a nuclear innovation hub, Youngkin said, including investments in research and development efforts. The money specifically for SMR development would be available for researching the technology, building a workforce for it and exploring sites where it could be developed.

SMR technology is designed to be a “plug and play” type of nuclear reactor that can be manufactured at a facility and then installed at a particular site, according to an August report prepared for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. 

If developed, the Southwest Virginia SMR would be the first of its kind in the country, Youngkin said.

Can Southwest Virginia remake itself as a laboratory for renewables?

The push for nuclear energy expansion was introduced in Youngkin’s “all of the above” four-year energy plan that he announced in Lynchburg on Oct. 3, which also called for revisions to the landmark 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act. The VCEA sets dates for fossil fuel retirements and requires increasing amounts of utilities’ energy to be sourced from renewables as the state aims to reach a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050. It also includes mandates for the development of wind, solar and energy storage by Dominion and Appalachian Power Company.

Alongside those calls, Youngkin requested the State Corporation Commission, which regulates Virginia’s electric utilities, to conduct a cost analysis that compares renewable energy technologies with available alternative technologies.

Youngkin spoke of the potential for alternative technologies such as nuclear, carbon capture, hydrogen and battery storage on Friday. For example, captured carbon could be used in concrete and paint manufacturing, manganese and metallurgical coal could be harvested for battery storage development, and water and met from underground mines could be used for hydrogen energy production, Youngkin said.

But several groups said the announcement of the innovation fund came with no input from local stakeholders.

Project development processes that leave out community voices is the wrong way to build support for a proposal,” said Rebecca Shelton, director of policy and organizing for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “Time and again the way residents learn about a new project is through a press announcement.”

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, also unveiled Thursday a partnership with West Virginia Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw to promote nuclear development.

The only full-scale new nuclear plant to be built in the U.S. in decades is the Vogtle plant in Georgia, which has been under construction for a decade, with costs ballooning to around $30 billion


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Charlie Paullin
Charlie Paullin

Charles Paullin covers energy and environment for the Mercury. He previously worked for Northern Virginia Daily in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and for the New Britain Herald in central Connecticut. An Alexandria native, Charles graduated from the University of Hartford initially wanting to cover sports. He's received several Virginia Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, local government and state politics.