Virginia’s Nuclear Industry Takes a Hit

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irginia’s once-promising nuclear industry is feeling the impacts of Japan’s reactor disaster which has dampened market demand for goods and services related to nuclear-powered generating plants.

Construction delays have been announced at the $363 million Areva Newport News facility that would make large components for the nuclear power industry. In Pittsylvania County, support seems to be growing against a proposal to mine about 119 million pounds of uranium worth about $8 billion.

The Old Dominion is a major center for the nuclear industry. French-owned Areva has its North American headquarters in Lynchburg where it provides maintenance crews and parts to service nuclear power stations throughout the U.S. Dominion Virginia Power operates four nuclear units in the state. A Newport News shipyard that has just been spun off to Huntingon Ingalls by Northrop Grumman is the only yard in the country that can make nuclear-powered surface ships.

As worries over disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl faded and concerns about climate change grew, Virginia seemed well-position to cash in on its civilian nuclear prowess.

The meltdown March 11 at Japan’s Fukushima plant has changed all of that. Japan and Germany are limiting or phasing out their reliance on nuclear power although developing nations such as China, Mexico and Iran are pressing on.

The market uncertainty has prompted Areva Newport News, owned by Areva and Huntington Ingalls, to announced May 9 that it was halting construction of its Newport News components facility which would employ 540. Company officials cited unfavorable market conditions but said that building could begin again if that changes. Construction had begun in 2009.
Meanwhile, the new anti-nuclear atmosphere is giving a boost to the 41 groups and localities that oppose Virginia Uranium Inc.’s plans to mine uranium in Pittsylvania County and create 300 jobs. The state has banned uranium mining but the General Assembly make reconsider it in 2012. ” We are not willing to risk our health and our property values and our future for low-quality jobs with such a toxic result,” Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry chapter of the NAACP was quoted as saying.

If advanced industrialized countries such as Germany and Japan start dissing nukes, then the uranium market will take a hit. Much of our supply comes from fissile product recycled from old U.S. and Soviet warheads and other countries such as Kazakhstan are moving ahead with supplies, making the Virginia product seem unnecessary.

Peter Galuszka

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