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Louisa County could be home to first-of-its-kind nuclear reactor

Dominion Energy is taking a first definitive step to bring a new kind of nuclear technology to Virginia, and says if it comes, it will come next to its workhorse North Anna nuclear power station in Louisa County.

The utility is asking the roughly half dozen firms that are developing small modular reactors — power plants less than a third the size of North Anna — to submit proposals for a small reactor at North Anna.

While it’s not a commitment to set up a small reactor at North Anna, it’s a critical first step, Robert M. Blue, Dominion’s chairman, president and CEO, said Wednesday, at the ceremonial signing of legislation. It would allow the utility to ask regulators at the State Corporation Commission to approve a surcharge to cover the costs of developing a small modular reactor.

Dominion expects to apply for the surcharge, Blue said.

While the legislation allows for a charge of up to $1.40 a month for a typical 1,000-kilowatt-hour bill – a bill that now totals $138 – Blue said he expects any surcharge would be substantially less than that.

Its request for proposals from developers will allow it to review the roughly half dozen different options currently available for reactors capable of generating 250 to 400 megawatts of electricity – enough to power between 62,500 to 100,000 homes.

That evaluation will cover the status of design engineering, operational flexibility, construction timelines, availability of supply chain and the ability to obtain necessary licensing and permitting, company officials said.

In addition, the proposals would involve a detailed look at the feasibility of the North Anna power station site, including water supplies and how the reactor would be plugged into Dominion’s grid.

The company is hoping to have a small modular reactor up and running by 2033.

“Today we are celebrating a milestone leading to the first commercial deployment of a small nuclear reactor in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin said, after Blue’s announcement.

He said small modular reactors are an exciting option because they can be made in a more assembly-line fashion than multibillion-dollar plants like North Anna, which means lower costs.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin

“At the end of the day, Virginia needs more power. … We don’t have enough wind, and we don’t have enough solar. In order to power Virginia, we’re going to need the Chesterfield gas plant, we need small modular reactors,” he said, referring to Dominion’s proposal to build a 1,000-megawatt plant that would kick on when electricity demand peaks. He said developing hydrogen as a fuel for power generating plants and technology to remove carbon dioxide from the air and from emissions are also key to what Virginia needs to do to address climate change.

The Chesterfield gas plant proposal has drawn strong opposition from environmentalists, who say it flouts the Virginia Clean Economy Act and its goal that Dominion would stop burning fossil fuel to generate power by 2045. Some Chesterfield residents have also protested the company’s plans to put the new plant on or next to the site of its gas- and oil-fired plant in the county, saying the new facility would be a public health hazard.

Some environmentalists have termed Youngkin’s call for what he has described as a “moonshot” effort to bring the first U.S. commercial small modular reactor online a distraction from Virginia’s need to develop wind and solar generation. They’ve argued that the technology is too new and untested.

Ontario Power Generation, owned by the province of Ontario, is building four small nuclear reactors at its Darlington, Ontario, power station. OPC expects its first small modular reactor to come online in 2029.

Earlier this week, Dominion announced it is acquiring an offshore windfarm lease just to the south of its $9 billion offshore wind farm in the Atlantic, 27 miles off the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, in a move to further expand its renewable generation capacity.

Source: Daily Progress