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Dominion, Virginia move forward in pursuing small modular reactor goals

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(The Center Square) — Virginia’s pursuit of nuclear power technology, though ambitious and not without resistance, continues to prove more than empty rhetoric, as representatives from Dominion Energy and the Youngkin administration gathered Wednesday at a company power station to share the next steps.

Dominion had selected its Louisa County North Anna Power Station as a possible site for a small modular nuclear reactor and announced it “has issued a Request for Proposals from leading SMR nuclear technology companies” to evaluate its feasibility.

Small modular reactors are much smaller than traditional nuclear power plants and, in theory, easier to transport and build, though the industry is in its very early stages.

“While the RFP is not a commitment to build an SMR at North Anna, it is an important first step in evaluating the technology and the North Anna site to support Dominion Energy customers’ future energy needs consistent with the company’s most recent Integrated Resources Plan,” the company said in a press release.

Dominion’s president lauded nuclear power’s contribution to Virginia’s grid and said SMRs could serve an important role in meeting the state’s green energy goals and customers’ energy needs.

“For over 50 years nuclear power has been the most reliable workhorse of Virginia’s electric fleet, generating 40% of our power with zero carbon emissions,” said Robert Blue, Dominion CEO. “Along with offshore wind, solar and battery storage, SMRs have the potential to be an important part of Virginia’s growing clean energy mix.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin tied the announcement into his depiction of a state firing on all cylinders.

“Virginia is growing. Jobs are at the highest level they have ever been in the history of the commonwealth of Virginia, and more people are calling Virginia home than ever. And with all of that, companies are coming,” Youngkin said, listing several industries growing in the state.

“At the end of the day, Virginia needs more power. We need more reliable, more affordable and yes, increasingly clean power. And that, as we march toward this destiny of Virginia leading the nation, will make Virginia, yes, the very best place to live, work and raise a family.”

Youngkin shared his energy vision for the commonwealth his first year in office, a vision not entirely antithetical to the previous Democratic governor’s but distinct nonetheless. While Gov. Ralph Northam pursued green energy at a breakneck pace, Youngkin conceived an “All of the Above” energy plan that incorporated carbon-free forms of power generation without abandoning existing methods for reliability’s sake.

The plan ultimately included Virginia becoming the first state in the country to build a commercial small modular nuclear reactor. Though nuclear energy is a low-carbon option, some environmentalists worry about other harmful byproducts like nuclear waste. However, Youngkin sees it as a low-emissions way to pursue reliable energy.

“Nuclear power is clean. Nuclear power is baseload power. And nuclear power is critical to our future,” he said.

While Wednesday was another step toward Virginia’s eventual deployment of an SMR, the commonwealth might not be the first to do so, as some other states are pursuing the same goal.

The governor also ceremonially signed a bill passed this session and patroned by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, that will allow Dominion to add up to $1.40 per month to consumers’ bills to recover SMR development costs, if approved by the State Corporation Commission.

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