Dominion Virginia Power’s unclear plans for a third nuclear reactor at its North Anna Power Station took a big hit this week when the the Virginia Attorney General's officeadvised abandoning the effort, saying its $19 billion cost would be too high for consumers who would pay for it.
I’ve covered this ground before, but I have some random thoughts about it now.
There is an argument for nuclear power, as Style outlined in this 2009 article. The good news is that if run properly, nuclear is clean, emits no dangerous, climate-changing gases such as carbon dioxide, and when working properly has an attractive capacity rate, meaning it's generally available to keep lights on around the clock regardless of weather, oil and gas price fluctuations, and so on.
The negatives are cost. Nukes are extremely expensive. That's why Dominion is shy about talking about Unit 3. The last time it even vaguely mentioned a price tag, it was around $10 billion. Plus, nukes have benefited from many hidden expenses that the American taxpayers have borne in their defense bills or with sweetheart insurance deals.
Nukes were created by the War Department in World War II and later by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Energy. A big player was the Navy, which pioneered power reactors. Most early types were based on ones the Navy used in its submarines. The one Dominion is considering for Unit 3 is a GE-Hitachi design that's far more modern than what it uses at North Anna and Surry, which were designed and built in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Style backgrounder was a bit on the cheerful side because Fukushima hadn’t happened yet. In 2011, a tidal wave pounded the East Coast of Japan, where the reactors were located. The water damaged gear that serviced the reactors, hastening their meltdown, making for the worst radioactive disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Another problem with North Anna is that is was built on a geologic fault line. Virginia Electric & Power Co., Dominion’s predecessor, lied about it and was fined. The danger was underscored when a Virginia earthquake in 2011 shook North Anna up so much that it was out of service for several months. Several heavy casks of stored radioactive waste were moved. Of course, how to dispose of radioactive waste is another unresolved issue.
So there you have it: the good and the bad. The Attorney General's statements are serious blows. Let me know your views. Editor's note: An earlier version of the post mistakenly said that the State Corporation Commission had advised abandoning North Anna III. It was the Attorney General's Office.