NRC licensing board will hear challenges on North Anna nuclear plant renewal application

By Rod Walton, content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN+

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hear arguments Thursday on a potential hearing from groups challenging renewal of the operating licenses for a Virginia reactor power plant.

The NRC’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will examine a petition for hearing a rule waiver request by Beyond Nuclear, Sierra Club and the Alliance for Progressive Virginia. These groups are challenging parent Dominion Energy and Virginia Electric Power Co.’s application to renew licenses for North Anna nuclear Units 1 and 2 near Mineral, Va.

The three administrative judges on the NRC board will hear argument from representatives for the petitioners, Virginia Electric Power and the NRC staff.

Utility giant Dominion Energy is the majority owner of the Virginia Power entity and the facility. Old Dominion Electric Cooperative also has a stake in the North Anna station.

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Dominion notified the NRC in 2017 that it intended to re-license and keep operating North Anna units for an additional 20 years. The utility also filed license renewal applications for its Surry nuclear power plant.

North Anna Unit 1 began commercial operation in 1978 and Unit 2 in 1980. Dominion had hoped to build a third unit, but that was put on hold more than three years ago.

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Altogether, North Anna’s two units generate close to 1,900 MW of carbon-free electricity at combined capacity, according to reports. If granted, the new licenses would extend the station’s lifespan into the late 2050s or 2060.

Both units utilize Westinghouse reactors. Five years ago, the Unit 1 reactor was shut down when a feedwater regulator valve closed. No major damage or injuries were reported.

Groups such as the Sierra Club are concerned about the environmental impact of nuclear waste and uranium mining.

Nuclear power currently accounts for about 20 percent of the U.S. electricity generation mix. It is the majority carbon-free resource used in power generation, with utility-scale wind second at 11 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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