Appalachian Nuclear Developments
Posted in Nuclear Energy
Appalachian Nuclear Developments

NuScale signs MOU with Nucor

In January of 2022 Nucor Corp. announced that it will build its new scrap-fed electric arc furnace (EAF) steel sheet mill in Mason County, WV.  On May 16, 2023, NuScale Power and Nucor Corp. signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to explore the deployment of NuScale’s small modular reactors (SMRs) to power and provide clean, reliable baseload electricity to Nucor’s EAF steel mills. 

“As part of the MOU, the companies will evaluate site suitability, transmission interconnection capabilities and capital costs for potential NuScale plants to be sited near and provide carbon free electricity to Nucor EAF steel mills. In addition, NuScale will study the feasibility of siting a manufacturing facility for NuScale Power Modules™ near a Nucor facility.”

Nucor’s Chair, President, and CEO, Leon Topalian, stated that “"Nucor is committed to supporting the development of transformative technologies that will deploy safe, reliable, affordable, 24/7, base-load carbon free power, like NuScale’s VOYGR SMR plants.”  Topalian went on to say, “Not only will Nucor’s partnership with NuScale help pave the way for a zero-carbon energy future for our nation, but we will be building this new generation with the cleanest steel products made anywhere in the world.”

This agreement increases the partnership between NuScale and Nucor which began back in 2022 when Nucor invested $15 Million in NuScale, and it further exemplifies the growing demand for SMRs, decarbonization in manufacturing, and nuclear energy overall.

Whether the Mason County site will be a possibility for a NuScale SMR remains to be seen, but I for one am hopeful that it will be considered and evaluated for such an opportunity!

Oklo Ohio Project

On May 18, 2023. California-based Oklo, Inc. and the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative (SODI) announced that the two entities have signed an agreement for land in Portsmouth, Ohio to host Oklo’s second and third commercial powerhouse nuclear reactor sites.  Oklo’s first reactor site will be at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  

Oklo’s agreement with SODI also details how the two will collaborate on jobs, community engagement, repurposing facilities on-site, and the potential for adding additional reactors to the campus at a later date.  The Portsmouth site was previously utilized by the United States to produce enriched uranium for the nuclear weapons program and then later to create fuel for our commercial reactor fleet.  These operations occurred from 1954 to 2001.  Since 2001 the site has been undergoing an environmental cleanup program led by the federal government, and now the Department of Energy (DOE) has begun transferring cleaned up parcels to SODI who in turns looks to site projects and development initiatives to improve the quality of life for neighboring counties and communities.  The Portsmouth site is currently host to the American Centrifuge Project with Centrus Energy demonstrating high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) production under a contract with the DOE. 

Oklo’s first reactor deployment at INL will be their Aurora Powerhouse, which is a 1.5-MWe passive compact fast reactor which will utilize some of the first HALEU fuel produced at INL.  Oklo’s fast reactor is able to incorporate inherent safety features and can utilize recycled spent nuclear fuel as its primary fuel.  This fast reactor and recycling technology has existed since the 1960’s and I for one am extremely excited to see companies like Oklo reinvesting and utilizing spent nuclear fuel recycling.  Not only does recycling defeat the tired and misinformed question of “what about the waste?”, but it also makes perfect economic sense to utilize an abundant fuel source that can be purchased very cheaply. 

The reactors planned for the Portsmouth site are projected to increase the output of Oklo’s first reactor considerably.  Oklo’s commercial power plants will provide up to 30-MW of clean electric power (15-MWe each), and over 50-MW of clean heating.  The company has said that “Oklo’s commercial power plants will help reinvigorate the local communities surrounding the site, paving the way for a cleaner and more resilient energy infrastructure and long-term and high-tech economic benefits to the region.”

Oklo is also one of the only reactor developers who plans on owning and operating their own power plants.  Most other developers simply sell the projects to utilities to own and operate.  Oklo will operate their plants and provide power to customers via power purchase agreements or similar structures.  Oklo’s target for power production commencing from their Portsmouth reactors is currently as early as 2028.

Being less than a 1-hour drive away from Huntington, WV and less than a 1.5-hour drive away from Charleston, WV, this project and others like it are sure to call upon West Virginia workers and companies to support supply chain, construction, development, and operational efforts.  Nuclear continues to grow in this region and I sure hope the energy, community benefits nuclear brings will also occur in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia.

VA Feasibility Study

On May 24, 2023, Dominion Engineering, Inc. released its feasibility study for Small Modular Reactor (SMR) sites for the LENOWISCO Planning District (comprised of Lee, Scott, and Wise counties and the independent City of Norton) as well as neighboring Dickenson County. “This geographic region of Southwest Virginia is characterized by the availability of brownfield sites for development, mine water for cooling, rail lines for shipping, and an interest in energy generation and data center development.”  Do those characteristics sound familiar to my West Virginian readers?  We’ll get to that a bit further down.

This area of Southwest Virginia is said to be undergoing and economic transition due to the drastic reduction in coal mine employment over the past several decades.  It is believed that attracting an expanding industry, such as advanced nuclear, into this new region would be a perfectly suited to nuclear companies’ needs.  The region has inexpensive brownfield sites, mine water for cooling, existing right of way to transmission infrastructure, and existing rail infrastructure.  Additionally, the extensive mining operations in the region were deemed to provide human expertise and infrastructure needed for handling and executing large civil construction projects, which advanced nuclear can be. 

More broadly, Virginia as a whole is viewed as a great jurisdiction for new nuclear projects because Dominion Energy has operated the North Anna Nuclear Generating Station and the Surry Nuclear Power Plant for fifty years; several Virginia’s universities have elite engineering programs; and Virginia has numerous nuclear consulting firms and manufacturing facilities with extensive experience, such as BWXT and Framatome just to name a few.  Once of the biggest reasons Virginia is seen as a perfect place for new nuclear is that the Governor and the operating utilities in the state are very enthusiastic for future nuclear projects in the state and their energy portfolios.

Everything the Virginia feasibility study noted as a positive and making the state an ideal location for new nuclear are things West Virginia also has to promote itself as a perfect jurisdiction for new nuclear projects.  West Virginia has abundant brownfield sites and brownfield site programs which are always looking for new projects to help revitalize our energy communities.  West Virginia has ample rail lines and waterways for shipping, abundant mine water and river water for cooling, a keen interest in energy generation, an ample workforces who is used to such large civil construction projects, and large industrial and manufacturing sectors which are seeking cleaner and reliable firm power. West Virginia is also strategically located between several nuclear-intensive jurisdictions, such as Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  There are numerous nuclear manufacturers, SMR developers, fuel fabricators, enrichers, and national laboratories surrounding West Virginia.  Our utilities are excited about nuclear and studying it as we speak.  Dr. Paul Chodak III, Executive Vice President for Generation at American Electric Power, stated in a 2021 Senate Committee hearing that, “When you layer in the secondary sources… you’re now looking at West Virginia doing what it used to do with coal, only now it’s doing it with nuclear.”  Our universities are looking into nuclear energy and possibly adding further engineering curricula to have our best and brightest students remain in the state with good high-paying jobs.  These are all efforts West Virginia businesses and workers could be assisting and profiting from. 

The feasibility study expounded on the jobs and community investments such projects will help bring, and it stated:

“The initial construction period will result in a large amount of temporary employment and spending in the community prior to plant operation. During operation the plant will directly employ 10-300 people, depending upon the selected design, which will result in up to 1200 total jobs added to the community. The directly created power plant jobs will require various levels of education, but it is expected that approximately half of the jobs will not require a college degree. Even plant designs that are small and autonomous will provide benefits to the community in the form of tax revenues for the host county or locality.”

Tokamak Energy’s WV Fusion Project

The latest Appalachian nuclear announcement came on June 2, 2023 when Tokamak Energy Inc, a WV-based subsidiary of British company Tokamak Energy Ltd, was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for an award as part of bold decadal vision for delivering commercial fusion energy!  This made Tokamak Energy one of eight entities which will receive federal funding for the development of pilot fusion energy power plants which aim to be completed in five to ten years.  The funding totals $46 million spread across the eight entities.  The announcement was applauded by both Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.VaWith efforts such as this, West Virginia will continue to lead the way in all forms of energy.

I believe the future of nuclear energy in West Virginia is bright as opportunities for it to play a vital role in our economy here continues to grow.  Our citizens, our workers, our businesses, our schools, and our local and state governments all stand to benefit greatly from these opportunities.  For additional information on our team and services, please check out our firm’s Nuclear Energy web page and be sure to follow me on Twitter @AtomicAttorney.