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The governor wants to move forward with nuclear innovation; critics say more info is needed

FirstEnergy Corp., which has operated the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio, for years, was at the center of a bribery scheme that included Ohio lobbyists and political officials.
Ron Schwane
A nuclear power station in Ohio.

Is nuclear energy a part of Virginia's future?

Recent years have seen a lot of discussion about renewable sources of energy, especially wind and solar. But now members of the General Assembly are considering a clean source of energy that is not renewable: nuclear energy. Harry Godfrey of Advanced Energy United says the latest research into advanced nuclear power has a focus on small modular reactors.

"The idea is to make the core nuclear reactor smaller. It generates less electricity, but it can be manufactured in a factory, and then it's portable," Godfrey explains. "Let's be clear, though. This technology is still very much in the research and development phase. It's not commercially viable yet."

Not commercially viable and also potentially radioactive.

"What's the plan to deal with waste? Nuclear waste; what is the plan," asks Tim Cywinski with the Sierra Club.

"What is the plan," asks reporter Michael Pope.

"There isn't one," responds Cywinski, who worries about communities that get stuck with nuclear waste.

"We know where those end up going. Poor communities, Black and brown communities in particular. They’re already overburdened with pollution," Cywinski says. "And we know that the way the energy system has been developed beforehand that things like nuclear waste and over-polluting projects — they're the ones who have suffered the greatest impacts."

Governor Glenn Youngkin says he's hoping a new bill he signed last week will make Virginia a nuclear innovation hub, although critics say more information is needed first on these small modular reactors.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.