ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – Southwest Virginia business and political leaders expressed excitement over the possibility of a nuclear reactor coming to the region.
The nuclear push was announced Monday by Gov. Glenn Youngkin during the unveiling of his statewide energy plan.
Youngkin wants a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) built in Southwest Virginia, calling it a “moonshot.”
Will Payne, director of the regional economic development Invest SWVA, said the region is a perfect fit for Youngkin’s plan because it has the infrastructure to do so from its coal mining glory days.
Payne said abandoned coal mines have all the right elements to handle the small nuclear reactors.
“SMR assets would be easily located on previously mined properties where you have significant power on site, access to transmission, but also in secure locations,” Payne said.
Getting the reactor to a location in Southwest Virginia will take years, but Payne said local governments need to be onboard before any power is generated.
“You have a number of private entities looking at this opportunity,” Payne said. “At the same time, we need localities and leaders throughout SWVA to be really good partners as they are right now, to make this a reality. It’s a process.”
In Smyth County, County Administrator Shawn Utt said he would be more than happy to have the reactor in his jurisdiction, but it has his support no matter where it could end up because of the potential to grow the entire region.
“It’s going to benefit our citizens whether it’s in Dickenson County or Buchanan County or Smyth County,” Utt said.
But how would nuclear help?
Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Bristol) said nuclear power has benefits coal and natural gas cannot match.
“It has zero emissions, higher reliability, and it’s really not that expensive,” O’Quinn said. “All of those are things that we have to be concerned about when it comes to utility bills and what those look like. I think nuclear is going to play a huge role into the future.”
Small modular nuclear reactors can also put out a lot of electricity. O’Quinn said it’s the technology that has been used in U.S. Navy ships for decades.
“Something even relatively small can service thousands of homes and businesses. That’s really exciting,” O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn added that proper environmental checks would be in place to make sure the reactor is safe for the surrounding habitat.
A company to build the reactor has not been identified, and a location has not been determined, but Payne said the search for a location has already started.
“Lenowisco District Planning Commission is completing a feasibility analysis right now of locating SMRs throughout the region,” Payne said. “I think we’ll learn a lot from that study.”
Bringing a reactor to Southwest Virginia could also have a tremendous economic benefit. Utt said it could bring new industry to the entire region by having a stronger power grid. He also said it could lead to new jobs in the energy sector for ex-coal miners.
“The coal workers that find themselves unemployed right now could easily be retrained for this type of work,” Utt said. “This could be a game changer for the whole Southwest.”
Utt said he and other leaders in Southwest Virginia would be watching the development of the reactor initiative closely over the next few years.