Monday, July 15, 2024

Virginia General Assembly OKs Bills to Develop Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

No commercial small modular nuclear reactors are in use in the United States. The only project to get federal approval was canceled in 2023 because of a series of challenges, including oversized cost increases. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Virginia’s General Assembly has approved legislation to develop small modular nuclear reactors.

The bills passed both chambers despite concerns about how this affects ratepayers. Senate Bill 454 allows utility companies to begin billing customers during a research and development phase, which means ratepayers can be billed for engineering, site development and other costs before utility companies get a power plant permit.

Peter Anderson, state energy policy director for Appalachian Voices, said Virginia should learn from other states with similar legislation.

“Georgia was developing a new conventional nuclear reactor,” Anderson pointed out. “They passed some legislation kind of like this one, and what they ended up with was a project that ultimately came online about $20 billion over budget and about 15 years after the initial in-service date.”

The reactors have not seen a major success rate in Virginia. Last year, the state’s General Assembly considered a bill creating a small modular reactor pilot program. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House. Even if the bills are signed into law, the State Corporation Commission has the final say in granting utility companies a permit to build one.

Along with concerns about how the measure affects ratepayers, there are environmental concerns. A 2022 Stanford University study found the reactors produce more volumes and highly reactive waste than traditional light-water reactor plants. Anderson noted electric grids need to meet certain specifications as part of the clean-energy future.

“The electric grid needs to be carbon-free, and it needs to be reliable and it needs to be affordable for people in their everyday lives,” Anderson asserted. “If you’re not doing all three at the same time, something’s broken. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

While some are uncertain about nuclear energy’s place in a climate-smart future, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has made it part of his “all of the above” energy plan. The plan calls for using several other energy sources such as natural gas, biomass, and renewable sources.

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