Youngkin reverses course on plans to build first SMR in Southwest Virginia

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ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — For some time, Virginia leaders have touted Southwest Virginia as the prime location for the state’s first small modular nuclear reactors (SMR). On Thursday, Governor Glenn Youngkin told reporters that dream is no longer a reality.

“I do firmly believe that Virginia will still be the first state to actually operate a small modular reactor in a commercial fact, in a commercial fashion. If Southwest Virginia is the best place for that, then that’s what we’ll find out,” Youngkin told reporters. “But as of today, the site work in all of that has really been focused on spots other than in Southwest Virginia.”

But one local energy leader said he wasn’t surprised by the governor’s reversal, especially given that other parts of the state already have stronger nuclear infrastructure.

“It does make sense that as we go to the first (SMR), that it might be better to put it on a site that’s already approved, is already conducting nuclear energy generation, has the infrastructure there, has all the talent, skills,” Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority Chair Mike Quillen told News Channel 11.

Dominion Energy currently operates two nuclear power stations in Surry and North Anna.

Though Southwest Virginia likely won’t be first to the table on SMRs, Quillen said that doesn’t rule them out completely.

“We’ve done two studies now about the benefits that we have, and we’re trying to get the word out that we have great workers, we have great assets,” Quillen said.

Regional leaders are still investing resources in studying the nuclear industry. Tuesday, the LENOWISCO Planning District Commission released a supply chain study aimed at giving the region a “road map” to taking advantage of the growing nuclear sector.

Citing Department of Energy data, the report projects that, “the establishment of new nuclear projects yields 2.5-3.5 indirect and induced jobs for every direct job within the surrounding region.”

Quillen said the growth potential posed by nuclear, alongside the growing energy needs as data centers begin locating in Virginia, makes it worth pursuing—despite concerns from environmental groups.

“We are conscious of the stigma that people say, ‘Well, you know, you can put something that nobody else wants in the coalfields,'” Quillen said. “That’s not this at all. We’re saying that if it comes here, it would be because of the advantages we have with water, with land and with people. Not because nobody else would take it. “

When asked which locations were being considered for the first SMR, Youngkin declined to give specifics.

“It’s still very early days,” Youngkin said.

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