Virginia must turn to its nuclear industry

Published 11:15 pm Thursday, October 10, 2019

To the editor:

Gov. Ralph Northam last month announced a plan that will put Virginia on the path to a zero-emissions energy future by 2050. In the press release announcing the plan, the Governor’s Office states, “The Executive Order lays out Virginia’s objectives for statewide energy production, which includes the goal that by 2030, 30 percent of Virginia’s electric system will be powered by renewable energy resources and by 2050, 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced from carbon-free sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.” The Order brings into focus the challenge of this vision: how to also meet our ongoing need for reliable, cost-effective and continuously dispatched electrical generation.

The Governor’s vision is bold. Virginia already gets more than 30 percent of its electrical power from nuclear generation. Getting to 100 percent carbon-free electrical generation by 2050 will require a significant investment in nuclear generation as well as other “carbon-free” energy sources such as wind and solar.

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Nuclear is demonstrably the best option for meeting baseload power needs in a carbon-free environment. Virginia is uniquely positioned to serve as a center for nuclear technology. Consider the diversity of its resources: Nuclear electrical generation by four Dominion Energy reactors; nuclear propulsion technologies by Newport News Shipbuilding; the nuclear Navy along Virginia’s coast; advanced nuclear education and research by Virginia’s world-class Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth universities; nuclear fuel and component manufacturing by outstanding companies with global reach; and nuclear-related services performed by numerous firms throughout the state. In diversity and strength, Virginia’s nuclear capabilities are unparalleled.

We live in a time of significant technological change. Nuclear technologies are rapidly advancing and making nuclear electricity generation an obvious choice for meeting our nation’s clean energy needs. Extraordinary advances in small modular reactor designs are making nuclear electricity generation even more efficient and cost-effective.

The latest designs allow for more complete utilization of nuclear fuel and longer operation between refueling. The most advanced designs now show promise for generating continuously dispatched electricity at all-in costs that meet-or-beat those of the most advanced non-nuclear generating sources.

Given the promise that nuclear technology affords, we urge the Governor to ensure Virginia’s energy policy priorities continue to make nuclear power a central part of the Commonwealth’s energy goals and including nuclear in any discussion of carbon-free energy sources.

We thank the Governor for taking action and look forward to working with the Governor and all Virginians to give nuclear technology a prominent role in Virginia’s energy future.

April Wade, Executive Director

Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium