DUFFIELD, Va. (WJHL) — At least seven large sites in Southwest Virginia would compete well in a bid to host one or more small “modular” nuclear reactors, a just-released feasibility study shows.

Dominion Engineering Inc. (DEI) of Reston, Va.’s 116-page study was completed for partners that have been pushing for economic growth inside the formerly coal-dominated LENOWISCO Planning District. Grants from Virginia Energy and GO Virginia Region 1 helped fund the study, which suggests the region that’s been hard-hit economically could gain a huge economic boost if one or more small modular reactors (SMR) were located there.

“On a variety of factors, socioeconomic, proximity to existing infrastructure, safety … I think the main takeaway is that this community is extremely attractive for one of these facilities,” DEI President Mike Little said at a news conference at LENOWISCO headquarters. Lenowisco covers Lee, Wise and Scott counties and the city of Norton.

Several of the sites are on abandoned mine lands, including a huge one, the Bullitt Mine Complex west of Big Stone Gap, where area leaders envision the potential for several modes of clean energy production including potentially multiple SMRs.

LENOWISCO Planning District Executive Director Duane Miller said the study results show the potential for job and income-generating projects in an area that has been hard-hit by the coal industry’s decline.

“Small Modular Reactors have the potential to provide a source of safe, stable, and sustainable energy, enabling transformational economic growth, improving quality of life and complementing the region’s existing energy generating portfolio,” Miller said.

The study found all the sites met basic Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements for SMRs, which are estimated to create 40-60 permanent jobs each along with hundreds of construction jobs. The reactors typically produce about 300 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power about 150,000 homes.

DEI’s Little said similar feasibility studies are occurring around the country but that the seven regional sites — DEI also reviewed four sites outside the region — were strong in every major important category including:

  • Previous brownfield sites that are ready to host industrial facilities;
  • Human capital — people who know how to complete heavy industrial projects;
  • Existing rail infrastructure to get the prefabricated SMRs to the site;
  • Safety, including low risk of natural disasters.

“When we look across the country at the projects where this has been looked at, this particular community ranked as high or higher than almost any other project that’s currently either under consideration or under construction,” Little said.

Virginia Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City), the House majority leader, said the study is timely given Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s October 2022 promise that Virginia would “launch” an SMR in Southwest Virginia within 10 years.

“To know that we’re in the game, that we have the opportunity to be in the game, I think that says it all,” Kilgore said.

He said Southwest Virginia can help the Commonwealth as it moves toward a clean energy economy.

“We have a lot of the brownfield sites here in Southwest Virginia, we’ve got a lot of folks that … already have those skills that are necessary to move these jobs forward,” Kilgore said.

Two large energy companies that operate in Virginia, Dominion and AEP, both have shown strong support for nuclear power as part of their energy portfolios, with Dominion projecting one per year could be built starting in 2034, the study found.

Each SMR could provide up to $100 million in new local tax revenue over an 18-year period, the study found. The SMR plants, which have a design life of 60 years, provide about half their jobs to people who don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s really a generational anchor for the economy,” DEI’s Chuck Marks said.

The rise of large data centers, which use huge amounts of power, make it likely that some will co-locate near SMRs and be among their main customers. The Bullitt Complex site covers several thousand acres and is also being studied for potential data center locations as well as other alternative energy production such as wind and solar, InvestSWVA’s Will Payne said.

He said sites like the Bullitt Complex have billions of gallons of water underground in the abandoned mines that is a constant 52 degrees Fahrenheit and could be used to create a closed-loop system for cooling both data centers and SMRs.

InvestSWVA, Energy DELTA Lab and the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority all were involved in the project.