On Thursday (December 10, 2015), the Virginia chapter of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) held its traditional annual joint meeting with the Virginia chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The evening’s invited speaker was Marshall Cohen, who became the first full time director of the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC) in July 2015.
Marshall and the rest of the members of the consortium quietly spent time in July and August establishing the organization, forming a leadership team, establishing initial priorities and building a web site. On September 17, VNEC announced its existence via a press release that introduced the team leadership, described the mission and functions of the organization, listed the founding member corporations and pointed people to virginianuclear.org as a growing source of information.
One of the many things I like about my adopted home state is its strong presence in virtually all phases of nuclear science and technology. Our state builds small modular reactors to install into aircraft carriers and submarines, it is the home to four large power reactors, it hosts a substantial portion of Areva’s North American engineering staff, it hosts the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility — one of the 17 DOE sponsored national laboratories, and it has several highly respected research universities that teach nuclear subjects — including the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), which offers accredited MS and Ph.D. degrees in Nuclear and Mechanical Engineering.
VCU also offers an ABET accredited BS in mechanical engineering with a nuclear engineering major concentration. (HT: Dr. Sama Bilbao)
In 2013, the legislature, recognizing the importance and value of nuclear energy in the state’s economy, passed a law that created both VNEC and a government board called the VNEC Authority. It’s taken more time to get the groups organized and running that some people–like me– would have preferred, but that is not uncommon when so many different groups come together.
It’s often challenging to establish common ground among companies and universities that often view each other as competitors.
As Mr. Cohen pointed out in his talk, VNEC might be the very first state chartered organization in the U.S. with a mission statement similar to this one.
To sustain and enhance the Commonwealth of Virginia as a national and global leader in nuclear energy and serving as an interdisciplinary business development, research, training, and information resource on nuclear energy issues.
To fulfill this mission, VNEC seeks to promote the benefits of nuclear energy and opportunities available for public and private entities to develop partnerships to advance the industry and the commonwealth.
Specifically, the VNEC has been tasked with:
- Promoting and facilitating agreements to carry out research projects relating to nuclear energy, science and technology;
- Identifying and supporting the development of education and training programs to meet the needs of Virginia’s nuclear industry, both for commercial and national security energy needs;
- Encouraging, facilitating, and supporting the application, commercialization, and transfer of new nuclear technologies;
- Providing public information and communication about nuclear energy and related educational and job opportunities.
- Providing advice, assistance, and services to institutions of higher education and to other persons providing services or facilities for nuclear research or graduate education; and
- Fostering innovative partnerships and relationships among the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth’s public institutions of higher education, private companies, federal laboratories, and not-for-profit organizations.
- Assisting the Commonwealth’s Economic Development programs to bring nuclear-related businesses into Virginia.
Marshall’s talk made me realize how many opportunities exist to strengthen and grow the organization and to effectively improve the health, welfare and prosperity of the state and country.
Immediately after returning home after the event, I visited virginianuclear.org and filled out the form on the Become a Member page to begin the process of adding Atomic Insights LLC to the list of VNEC members.
Outside of the talk, the event also provided a good opportunity to meet some new friends, build on established friendships, provide some mentoring to young nuclear professionals who are in the early stages of their careers and have a pretty decent catered meal at the beautiful Center for Advanced Engineering & Research. It’s a place I’ve visited numerous times, both as an at large member of the VA-ANS board of directors and when I was working for B&W mPower.
It still saddens me to see the tower housing the currently idle IST (Integrated System Test) and to remember how much creative, hard labor went into building and commissioning that facility. It angers me to think about what could have been happening there during the past couple of years.
One more thing — the New London Business and Technology Center, which is the commercial park where the CAER is located, is beautiful and well sited to be a nuclear technology hub.
Since my last visit, one new tenant has joined the CAER and fire station as residents of the park, but there are still plenty of vacant lots available.
At least some of the lots could be developed as sites for prototype nuclear power plants. It would, of course, require careful planning and public interaction, but Bedford County’s economic development page describing “Target Industries” lists Nuclear Energy at the top of the list.
How many locations around the country do that?
Update (December 12, 2015 20:52) Revised description of Areva’s presence in Virginia.