As I spoke about in one of my previous posts, there are many countries and states looking to nuclear energy as a way to ensure energy security, lower energy prices, and decarbonize. Across the world many nations are looking to nuclear energy more than ever before, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revealed how fragile energy markets truly are. Nuclear energy can be the key to energy security, especially when paired in an “all-of-the-above” strategy.
The reason nuclear energy brings energy security to the US in particular is because we have the capability of creating the entire nuclear lifecycle here at home. We have large uranium deposits to mine; we are building a uranium reserve; we can purchase uranium from friendly nations such as Canada, rather than being reliant on Russia; we have conversion and enrichment facilities; we build reactors and SMRs; we have the workforce to operate the reactors; and we have all the necessary supply chains which will support many states and multiple industries. This allows the US to not be subject to supply shocks when strife arises, as well as allowing us to be able to meet the consumer and industrial demands when other energy sources might slow or need maintenance. This is why an all-of-the-above strategy is vital to our country, West Virginia, and the surrounding region. Rather than be at the whims of whipsaw markets where prices rise for one energy source, we will have the ability to utilize multiple energy sources to provide reliable and affordable energy and jobs at all times.
But is the United States making additions and transitions to nuclear energy? How far along is the US? Is Appalachia involved? What does this mean for the Appalachian states? Let’s take a look.
United States – The US is completing the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors in Georgia, which are set to come online in 2023. On August 3, 2022 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorized Southern Nuclear Operating Company to load fuel and begin operating the Vogtle 3 reactor. Following the Vogtle reactors, the US currently has two large reactors planned in Florida, the Turkey Point 6 & 7 reactors; and the first SMRs from NuScale are scheduled to be completed and begin operation in Idaho in 2029. Additionally, the US has 7 large reactors and another 11 SMRs proposed. The US will also have other DOE SMR demonstration projects, such as the X-Energy project in Washington, the TerraPower Natrium plant in Wyoming coming online in the next 7 years as well, but the earliest SMR project to be completed is the BWXT microreactor which will be provided to the Department of Defense for operation in 2024. More on that below.
With a broad, country-wide view in hand, let’s take a closer look at what is happening around us in Appalachia to see who is looking to build up their energy portfolios, bring jobs and revenue to their states, and help Appalachia remain a vital part of America’s energy independence.
- West Virginia – West Virginia lifted its nuclear moratorium earlier this year, and the Bowles Rice Nuclear Energy Team immediately jumped into action by sending out information on the nuclear industry and highlighting its ability to assist in any nuclear projects or supply chain efforts in the states we serve.
- Kentucky – Kentucky lifted its ban on nuclear power in 2017, and recently announced that it is seeking to fund and research institutions to do a feasibility study of advance nuclear energy technology for electric power generation. Kentucky is also home to Wilmington, North Carolina-based Global Laser Enrichment’s proposed laser enrichment facility in Paducah, Kentucky. This new form of enrichment uses specific wavelengths of light to selectively excite molecules of uranium isotopes, allowing them to be mechanically separated from the more common molecules, resulting in an increased concentration of the necessary uranium isotopes, thereby resulting in the enriched uranium nuclear fuel requires. This technology can help address the need for enrichment services and nuclear fuel demand, all while not requiring more conversion services due to it being able to process depleted uranium that has already been converted.
- Alabama – Alabama has five (5) nuclear reactors that employs more than 2,750 workers.
- Georgia – Georgia currently has four (4) operational nuclear reactors, and two (2) more to come online in 2023. Georgia’s nuclear operational reactors employ more than 2,200 workers, and construction at the new Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors is supporting 5,500 jobs. The Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors will add more full-time employment as well. Atlanta-based Southern Company is also partnering with TerraPower to design, construct, and operate the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE), the world’s first critical fast-spectrum salt reactor, at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
- Maryland – Maryland has two (2) operational nuclear reactors which employs more than 820 workers. The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) has awarded grants to Maryland-based X-energy and Frostburg State University to evaluate the benefits of repurposing a coal-fired electric generating facility with X-energy’s Xe-100 small modular reactor. Rockville Maryland-based X-Energy is creating its SMR under the DOE Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, and in October 2020 was one of two companies to receive initial funding for ARDP Demonstration projects to build their SMR that can be operational within seven years. The Xe-100 is a pebble bed, high-temperature gas-cooled reactor that the company says can’t melt down thanks to its use of TRISO fuel.
- Mississippi – Mississippi has one (1) operational nuclear reactor which employs more than 675 workers.
- New York – New York currently has four (4) operational nuclear reactors which employs more than 2,000 workers.
- North Carolina – North Carolina has five (5) operational nuclear reactors which employ more than 2,600 workers. Wilmington, North Carolina-based GE Hitachi Nuclear is developing the BWRX-300, which is a 300 MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems. Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Supplier’s Association (SIMSA) have agreed to cooperate to support the potential deployment of the BWRX-300 SMR in Saskatchewan. In December 2021, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) chose GEH as its technology partner on a new SMR, with the first grid-scale plant scheduled to be completed by 2028 at the Darlington nuclear station site. Wilmington, NC is also home to Global Laser Enrichment, discussed above, whose laser enrichment services are looking to be utilized by Constellation Energy Generation, LLC and Duke Energy, who operate thirty-two (32) reactors combined (more than 1/3 the nuclear fleet).
- Ohio – Ohio has two (2) operational nuclear reactors which employs more than 1,400 workers. Centrus Energy is making high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel at its enrichment facility in Piketon, Ohio. As of June 2021, the plant was the only licensed HALEU production facility in the United States.
- Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania has eight (8) operational nuclear reactors which employ more than 4,500 workers. Pennsylvania is home to Westinghouse Nuclear, which is developing the eVinci micro-reactor. Westinghouse has even presented to the West Virginia Legislature on a potential partnership between Westinghouse and West Virginia University to deploy their eVinci micro-reactor as a test reactor at the university, as well as utilizing that deployment as a way to build a nuclear engineering curriculum at WVU. In May of this year, Penn State and Westinghouse announced that they will partner on research and development efforts focused on exploring and applying nuclear engineering and science innovations to societal needs. They will also begin discussions about siting Westinghouse’s eVinci micro-reactor at University Park. The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) and Westinghouse have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to advance very small modular reactors (vSMRs), also known as micro-reactors, in Saskatchewan. Most recently, Westinghouse and Bloom Energy Corporation announced that they have entered into a Letter of Intent to pursue clean hydrogen production in the commercial nuclear power market. The companies are teaming to identify and implement clean hydrogen projects across the nuclear industry.
- South Carolina – South Carolina has seven (7) operational nuclear reactors which employ more than 2,800 workers. One of South Carolina’s reactors also services parts of North Carolina as well. Westinghouse has a long history of operations in South Carolina, dating back to the 1969 opening of the Westinghouse Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility (CFFF) in Hopkins, just outside of Columbia. Today, CFFF is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world. The site houses fuel manufacturing facilities, product engineering and testing laboratories, as well as fuel marketing and contract administration.
- Tennessee – Tennessee has four (4) operational nuclear reactors which employ more than 2,400 workers. Tennessee is also home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is vital to the nuclear industry and employs approximately 5,700 workers. Oak Ridge, Tennessee will also be home to X-Energy’s TRISO-X, LLC Fuel Fabrication Facility (TF3), which will be the nation’s first high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel fabrication facility. This facility is projected to bring more than 400 jobs to Tennessee.
- Virginia – Virginia has four (4) operational nuclear reactors which employ more than 2,000 workers. Virginia is also home to BWXT Technologies, which is building the first advanced microreactor in the United States for Project Pele under a contract with the Department of Defense. This microreactor will be completed and delivered in 2024 for testing at the Idaho National Laboratory. BWXT expects that approximately 120 employees will work on the project, including roughly 40 skilled trades, engineers and other positions. This microreactor will be a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, will operate between one and five MWe, and will be transportable in commercial shipping containers. It will be powered by TRISO fuel, which can withstand extreme heat and has very low environmental risks. BWXT’s facilities in Virginia are also capable of creating the TRISO fuel. Virginia also has large uranium deposits, but its moratorium on uranium mining is still in place.
I am glad to see so many states in Appalachia embracing nuclear for the many benefits it provides and how it can help secure our energy needs and revitalize our communities. Nuclear energy can bring safety, security, and independence to the country, the State of West Virginia, and our surrounding region when we need it most.