LYNCHBURG, Va. (WJHL) — Southwest Virginia featured prominently Monday when Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin unveiled his Commonwealth-wide energy plan, with the first-year governor calling for deployment of the state’s first small “modular nuclear reactor” in the region.
Youngkin said the Commonwealth would bring together academia, industry, government and inject “sheer Virginia grit in order to build the world’s leading nuclear energy hub right here in Virginia.”
Part of that effort will be centered in Southwest Virginia, a traditional home to the energy sector that has fallen on challenging times as the coal industry has declined, Youngkin said with a double metaphor.
“I want to plant a flag right now,” he said in Lynchburg, which is home to BWX Technologies and Framatome, two of the U.S.’s four large-scale nuclear companies.
“I want to call our moonshot. Virginia will launch a commercial small modular reactor that will be serving customers with baseload power demand in Southwest Virginia within the next 10 years. That’s what we’re going to go do.”
Southwest Virginia delegates and Invest Southwest VA have been closely involved in planning for the research and development needed to bring the nuclear projects and others to fruition in the region.
One of those, House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, said the plan “includes several exciting opportunities for Southwest Virginia.
“His endorsement of small modular nuclear reactors supports a technology that can innovate and revitalize abandoned coal mines and diversify Southwest Virginia’s economy,” Kilgore said in a news release.
These small modular nuclear reactors (SMNRs) will be monitored by the Discovery, Education, Learning and Technology Accelerator (DELTA) Energy Lab. SMNRs are used in air craft carriers and submarines.
The Chair of DELTA Energy Lab, Mike Quillen, says these SMNRs are “very safe”.
The DELTA Energy Lab will be launched this week.
The energy plan notes that six Virginia universities offer nuclear engineering and advanced physics degrees, and Virginia community colleges also include career paths supporting the nuclear workforce.
Virginia is at the forefront of nuclear energy research and development and should “become the nation’s leader” in small modular reactor technology, the plan says.
“Accordingly, this plan advocates for the development of the first commercial SMR in the U.S. in Southwest Virginia and calls for developing spent nuclear fuel recycling technologies that offer the promise of a zero-carbon emission energy system with minimal waste and a closed-loop supply chain.”
Another Southwest Virginia delegate, Israel O’Quinn (R-Abingdon), praised Youngkin’s turn from many of the goals set out in the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) passed by Democratic state House and Senate majorities and signed by Democratic then-governor Ralph Northam.
O’Quinn said the new plan increases opportunities for economic development in the coalfields.
“In 2020 I urged my colleagues to see that the Virginia Clean Economy Act was a bad deal for Virginians, especially those who call Southwest Virginia home,” O’Quinn said in a news release. “Today, I am encouraged to see the Governor’s plan emphasize the need for a diversified energy economy to benefit all regions of the Commonwealth and bring nuclear innovation to Southwest Virginia.”
Invest Southwest VA is the business development partner in that effort, which hopes to diversify the region’s economy through efforts like building businesses to contribute infrastructure to the offshore wind industry.
“That’ll increase the tax base for that county or locality and allow you to hire teachers and educate children and bring jobs into our region,” says House majority leader Terry Kilgore.