by James A. Bacon
I don’t know what kind of future the nuclear power industry has in the United States, but whatever it is, Virginia wants to grab a piece of it.
The Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC) and the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) have announced a plan to join forces to bring more nuclear research dollars into Virginia and create more nuclear workforce opportunities, reports Virginia Business magazine.
VNEC was created in 2013 by the Virginia General Assembly as an independent authority with the goal of making the Commonwealth a global leader in nuclear energy. CAER’s mission is to increase competitiveness for core, high-wage industries in the Lynchburg area around a knowledge-based research hub.
The two organizations agreed to pursue initiatives related to researching new nuclear technologies, education and training programs, and bringing nuclear-related businesses into Virginia,
“This agreement will help us ensure government, academic institutions, and private commercial entities make the most of Virginia’s capabilities for contributing to the next generation of nuclear technology and education, opening doors for additional research funding, creating opportunities for new jobs, and launching new businesses in the commonwealth,” Sama Bilbao y León, director of nuclear engineering programs at VCU and chairman of VNEC, said in a statement.
It wasn’t clear what resources will be applied to the initiative, although the article did allude to “the historical support” of the General Assembly and the Virginia Tobacco Regional Revitalization Commission as possible sources of financial backing.
VNEC has endorsed the use of nuclear power in Virginia’s electricity generation mix, stressing the need for zero CO2-emissions baseload capacity to offset the intermittent generation of solar and wind. But VNEC’s main thrust is to bolster the economic prospects of key players in the nuclear power industry including AREVA Inc. North America, a Lynchburg-based subsidiary of the French nuclear construction and services company; Babcock & Wilcox, a Lynchburg-based nuclear service firm; and Huntington Ingalls Industries, the Newport News-based builder of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
Bacon’s bottom line: Nuclear power has had a bad image in the United States ever since the Three Mile Island episode, not to mention the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. Moreover, the massive safety redundancies built into nuclear power plants make them incredibly expensive. But the industry is working on new technologies that might bring down costs and alleviate safety concerns, the most promising of which is a new generation of smaller reactor.
Virginia has had a good experience with nuclear. Dominion Virginia Power’s nuclear facilities in North Anna and Surry have among the best tracks records in the country. The U.S. Navy in Norfolk has operated nuclear-powered warships without incident for decades. Why not embrace the industry? Why not benefit from other peoples’ unfounded fears?