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

Virginia’s largest utility stated Wednesday that it’ll discover the opportunity of utilizing small nuclear reactors to assist meet rising electrical energy calls for whereas decreasing greenhouse gasoline emissions.

FILE – This aerial photograph exhibits cooling ponds alongside Dominion Energy’s North Anna Power Station alongside the shores of Lake Anna in Mineral, Va., Aug. 15, 2018. Renewables alone aren’t anticipated to fulfill a projected improve in demand for electrical energy within the coming many years, Dominion Energy Virginia stated in a submitting Monday, May 1, 2023, that was intently aligned with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s vitality coverage. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)(AP/Steve Helber)

Virginia’s largest utility stated Wednesday that it’ll discover the opportunity of utilizing small nuclear reactors to assist meet rising electrical energy calls for whereas decreasing greenhouse gasoline emissions.

Nuclear energy has been rising as a gorgeous choice for states transitioning away from coal, oil and different fossil fuels. Proponents of a brand new era of smaller reactors have stated they’ll be cheaper and faster to deliver on-line.

There aren’t any small modular reactors, often known as SMRs, in operation within the U.S., in keeping with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the impartial company that oversees civilian makes use of of radioactive materials.

A undertaking to construct the primary SMR, in Idaho, was terminated final 12 months following value will increase and a scarcity of subscribers. But a pilot undertaking is underway in Tennessee, whereas Bill Gates and his vitality firm plan to construct a business SMR plant in Wyoming.

Dominion Energy Virginia stated Wednesday that it has requested SMR corporations to judge the feasibility of creating a undertaking on the web site of its current North Anna nuclear energy plant exterior Richmond.

Speaking close to its cooling towers, Dominion CEO Robert Blue stated nuclear energy already makes up 90% of Virginia’s carbon-free electrical energy. A brand new state regulation permits the corporate to discover using SMRs, with related prices capped at $1.40 per thirty days for a typical residential buyer.

Blue stated he expects the fee influence to be a lot decrease. Dominion serves about 2.7 million prospects in Virginia. It has been erecting photo voltaic farms and is putting in a large windfarm off the coast of Virginia Beach.

A 2020 state regulation set a goal for 100% of Virginia’s electrical energy to come back from carbon-free sources by 2050. Speaking at Wednesday’s information convention, Gov. Glenn Youngkin stated it’s necessary to embrace new applied sciences for energy era.

“We can’t construct sufficient wind,” Youngkin stated. “We can’t construct sufficient photo voltaic with a view to energy the Virginia of the long run. We want the entire above.”

A 2022 Associated Press survey of vitality insurance policies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia discovered {that a} robust majority — about two-thirds — say nuclear will assist substitute fossil fuels.

But opponents, largely in Democratic-led states, cite the price of new reactors in comparison with putting in wind generators or photo voltaic panels, in addition to security issues. There’s additionally the query of how you can retailer hazardous nuclear waste.

Some environmentalists oppose small modular reactors for comparable causes. And a 2022 Stanford-led examine discovered that SMRs will generate extra waste than standard reactors.

But curiosity in SMRs seems to be rising, although one undertaking was already canceled.

In January 2023, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed the primary design for one from Oregon-based NuScale Power. The firm labored with a bunch of Utah utilities to exhibit a six-reactor plant on the Idaho National Laboratory, producing sufficient electrical energy to energy greater than 300,000 houses.

But the undertaking was terminated in November. Costs had elevated by greater than 50% in two years to $89 per megawatt hour. And it was unlikely that sufficient native energy suppliers would subscribe for the undertaking to proceed.

Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the fee, stated Wednesday that the NuScale Power design stays licensed and is accessible for corporations to contemplate. Meanwhile, the fee has different designs for different places beneath overview.

For instance, NRC has granted a development allow to Kairos Power, which is constructing a take a look at model of an SMR in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Burnell stated. It additionally submitted an utility for a bigger take a look at model on the identical web site.

Burnell stated one other utility is beneath overview from the corporate TerraPower, which is chaired by Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft. That undertaking would use an SMR for a business energy plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming.

“We have a number of different reactor designers who’re speaking to us about probably making use of, both for different development permits or to have their designs generically accepted,” Burnell stated. “So there are a variety of different names (of corporations) which might be in discussions with us. But no formal purposes at this level.”

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