The Future of Nuclear Power in Virginia
After a tsunami created a nuclear crisis in Japan, Germany announced plans to phase out its nuclear plants, and France, which now gets three quarters of its power from nuclear reactors, recently said it would reduce its reliance to 50%. Here in Virginia, however, Dominion Power is giving serious thought to expanding its nuclear capacity. Sandy Hausman talked with experts who have doubts about that plan.
Faced with federal regulations that will limit air pollution from burning of coal, oil and gas, Dominion says it will up its reliance on wind and solar power – getting up to 8% of its energy from those renewable sources by 2030. Future plans call for generation of up to half of Dominion’s electricity from natural gas and at least a quarter from nuclear plants near Norfolk and Richmond. What’s more, the company could build a third reactor at North Anna at an estimated cost of $20 billion. Paris-based energy consultant Mycle Schneider is surprised. There are 60 reactors being built around the world, he says, but three quarters of them are behind schedule.
“There are only five reactors under construction in the United States, all of them being delayed,” he says. “Watts Bar Two in Tennessee started construction in 1973!”
One problem he cites is a lack of expertise.
“In the United States the last reactor dates from 1996, so we don’t have the skilled workforce, managers and decision makers that have experience to deal with those large projects.”
Without an experienced team, he says, quality control is a real issue.
Security may also be a problem. In France, drones have been seen buzzing nuclear power plants, and at the Union of Concerned Scientists, David Lochbaum thinks federal regulators need to look at that.
“The security measures that were ordered by the NRC after 9/11 considered suicide aircraft,” he explains, “but drones really weren’t out there as they are today.”
He also thinks this country must find a better way to dispose of radioactive waste from existing plants before building new reactors.
“The federal government has yet to come up with a place for spent fuel to go, and as a result, spent fuel is stacked up everywhere at plant sites where it’s not supposed to be,” Lochbaum says.