Regions Central Virginia

Virginia’s energy future

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires

Small, modular reactors represent the future of nuclear power in Virginia. Coal continues to face challenges but has gotten a lot cleaner. And watch out for new technologies. They are harnessing alternative sources of energy such as thermo electric generation and breathing new life into existing sources such as water.

Those were some of the messages Thursday during a wide-ranging discussion on Virginia’s energy future at a forum in Richmond sponsored by The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Several speakers led the discussion at the Patrick Henry building, with about 40 people attending.

Christopher Lapp, an independent consultant in the nuclear industry who has worked on the design and construction of nuclear power plants, said Virginia is emerging as a leader in the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). The Babcock & Wilcox Co.’s nuclear group in Lynchburg has received federal funds to design the country’s first small modular reactor, Lapp noted.

These smaller, 300-megawatt reactors cost just under a million to build, he said, which is much more feasible than the $8 billion price tag typically associated with a major nuclear power plant.

Rather than build a third reactor at North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, Lapp said Dominion might consider adding two small SMRs, since it already has the security and emergency planning infrastructure in place for a nuclear facility. These smaller units don’t take as long to start up or shut down, he said, and with their smaller nuclear cores, there is less chance of a meltdown. Another consideration would be to use them as a backup source in the event of a plant shutdown rather than diesel generators, which aren’t always reliable, he added.

Should Dominion proceed with a third nuclear unit at Lake Anna, Lapp observed, it would provide “a huge job base in construction and operation.”

According to his estimates, construction of a third unit could create 1,400 to 1,800 jobs, while operation of the unit would create 400 to 700 permanent jobs. That would translate into $40 million a year in labor income, Lapp said.

Four nuclear plants closed in the U. S. over the last year, Lapp said, and four new ones are under construction, which means the country will continue to have about 104 nuclear plants.

On the coal front, Jade Davis enumerated the current challenges facing the industry. With tougher federal emission standards, the industry is working to make coal less carbon intensive. Clean coal technologies and the country’s clean air act, passed years ago, are making a difference in air quality he said, based on the data.

According to him, in the last 40 years, the industry has spent $150 billion to achieve more than an 80 percent reduction in the emissions of sulfur and nitrogen dioxides. “The air is getting better. The air is getting cleaner. Why isn’t that story being told?”

The industry wants the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration to update laws that reflect the progress and to release “rules that are achievable,” Davis said.

Under current restrictions, the country may be looking at 48,000 megawatts of lost coal production by 2025, Davis said. “That’s like New York City or northern New Jersey. Think about that. That’s what it would take off the grid,” he added, referring to the power needed for areas of that size.

One of the presentations on alternative forms of energies talked about the possibility of using hydro power. Rob Hartwell, president of Hartwell Capitol Consulting, said, “Water is one of the most vastly untapped sources in the world.”

According to him, new technologies could make it possible for water turbines to be attached to bridges over bodies of water, where they could convert water into energy. “I think the future of water and hydro can be critical,” he said. “The tides and currents never stop.”

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