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Rees Shearer: “Urge your legislators today, stop sending us down a costly, useless SMR rabbit hole”

Shearer: "These [small modular nuclear reactor] dogs won’t hunt, but they sure do bite!"


by Rees Shearer for SWVA Nuclear Watch, a coalition of five Virginia coalfield region environmental and justice organizations, founded in recent months because of concerns about an announced plan by Governor Glenn Youngkin to place SMRs at an abandoned mine land site in Wise County, Virginia.

The Virginia General Assembly may permit Dominion Energy and APCo to require Virginia electric customers to buy nuclear reactors – on the installment plan – to fire up data centers

General Assembly members are voting this week on a State Corporation Commission policy change. would permit Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company to slip their fingers into the pockets of Virginia customers, pulling out expenses for small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) development. If the bills become law, customers’ electric bills could soar over 10-15 years before an SMR would generate any power. If any ever does.

No SMR has ever successfully been completed in the U.S. The flagship SMR project, NuScale was canceled in November, because of escalating costs without the first shovelful of earth turned., despite over $2 billion (that’s with a “b”) in paid and promised federal subsidies.

Currently, the SCC doesn’t permit reimbursement for new generating facilities until they are online, producing electricity The two bills dramatically alter that sensible approach. The bills would permit shifting costs and risks to Virginia families in order to bankroll SMR projects monthly, coercing ratepayers into becoming angel investors for the utilities’ boondoggles.

The bills permit multiple SMRs at a single location, each up to 500 MW – not “small,” but actually a standard-sized reactor, according to the  Department of Energy. The House bill focuses reactor sites on environmental justice communities, damaged by coal and timber extraction for 130 years. SMRs portend the next wave of resource exploitation.

The utilities boldly propose they be granted about a 10% profit “tip” off the top of our forced SMR investments. Dominion Energy is very generous in one respect. Over the past four years, the company contributed $40.4 million to Virginia state candidate campaigns and political party and political action committees (PACs), $26.6 million of that in just the past two years, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

If SMRs are such a great investment, let utility stockholders put their own skin in the game, not families.

SMRs are a speculative approach to curb high costs, which have plagued the commercial nuclear power industry. Nuclear developers plan to replicate a single model design in a factory and deliver modules of that design to a site. Then, they would be constructed by a specialized crew, moving from site to site. Local employment opportunities are mostly a mirage. Because up to 12 SMnRs can be controlled remotely, high-paying reactor control jobs will not be local.

Utility lobbyists may point out that the bills direct the SCC to permit reimbursement only of ‘reasonable and prudent’ utility expenditures on SMR development. But in practice it will work quite differently. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is having a tough time regulating SMRs. Can a state utility commission have the resources to evaluate whether ongoing expenses are ‘reasonable and prudent?

Sunk costs from front-end government-subsidized project capital and relatively low early ratepayer investment costs will help utilities convince the SCC to require ratepayers to continue to reimburse SMR expenses, until SMR reimbursement becomes the default SCC decision.

Utilities win either way, scooping up front-end federal and state subsidies, then forcing ratepayers to take all the risks, even pay if a nuclear plant is never completed – just like North Anna #3.

Customers are already burdened. APCo levied a 10% bill increase just this month. Much higher bills could be on the way.

There are reasonable and far cheaper alternatives. Data centers, not residential or commercial customers, are driving up electric demand in Virginia. Require new data centers to implement the latest efficiency technology and supply their demand with 100% renewable energy and energy storage, like Amazon and Google already do where required. Citizens should not subsidize new power generation just so data centers can plug in for free.

Residential ratepayers did not cause this growth in demand. We should not be on the hook to pay for it.

Urge your legislators today, stop sending us down a costly, useless SMR rabbit hole. These SMR dogs won’t hunt, but they sure do bite!


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