Virginia may be the only state in the U.S. with a law creating a public-private partnership structure whose mission is to strengthen and promote its nuclear energy and technology industries.
There are two components of the partnership, the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority (VNECA) and the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC), which is a private, not for profit corporation that is answerable to the authority. The VNECA Board composition was defined by statute to be composed of the following:
1 – Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy
2 – VA Economic Development Partnership
3 – VA Community Colleges System
4 – VCU
5 – UVa
6 – VT
7 – GMU
8 – Two other universities appointed by Governor: Currently Christopher Newport University and George Washington University
9 – Six business entities located in VA appointed by Governor: Currently
— Newport News Shipbuilding,
— B&W (BWXT)
10 – One non-profit appointed by Governor: Currently ANS
11 – One federal research agency appointed by Governor: Currently Jefferson Lab
The authorizing legislation passed with little opposition in early 2013, and the VNECA hosted the first of a series of meetings that October.
Following the authority’s lead, VNEC devised a shared funding mechanism, signed up a group of eight founding, fee-paying members, produced a mission statement and hired an executive director.
Those entities are AREVA, BWXT, Dominion, GE-Hitachi, Newport News Shipbuilding, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech.
On December 10, 2015, the consortium’s executive director Marshall Cohen spoke at the annual joint meeting of the Virginia chapters of the American Nuclear Society and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Cohen walked the crowd of 70 interested professionals through VNEC’s history, described its current activities, talked about near term priorities and solicited the involvement of everyone with a vested interest in seeing the organization make progress in achieving its mission.
That mission is 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.
I attended the meeting and listened carefully to the presentation.
During his talk Cohen spoke to the importance of the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization and VNEC’s active role as one of many supporters of the effort. That involvement was successful and provided VNEC an opportunity to build its brand and prove its worth to members and potential members.
It also enabled the organization to begin building a national network and organizational identity. The VNEC executive described an effort in cooperation with NEI that will result in a conference in the first quarter of 2016 for interested individuals and organizations to discuss nuclear technology issues in Virginia. The event is being treated as a prototype for similar events around the country.
McAuliffe: ‘I Love Nuclear’
He then recounted a conversation with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) that some of my fellow Virginians (and Americans) might find a little incredible.
Cohen: I was with the governor on Monday morning [Dec 7] at a conference. He says, “Oh yeah, nuclear in Virginia. That’s critical. That’s important. I love nuclear. I wish we had 100% nuclear. What can I do to help?” It’s the governor. He’s ebullient. But you know what, he will help.
When Cohen finished talking and solicited questions, my hand shot up. Here is a transcript of the resulting conversation.
Adams: One of the things that I’ve worked on over the last cou- ple of years is helping people understand that mining uranium is a useful and vital part of our industry and that people who try to make it out as a health issue are harming the prospects for the rest of us.
You talk about a nuclear cluster in Virginia. We have at least 119 million pounds of uranium on private property with good roads and good infrastructure. Is the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium going to work on that issue and help the Coles access their private property?
Cohen: It is not an issue that’s come to us. I would be more than happy to take the issue to the board. Somehow just make a request or give me some background information and we can cer- tainly have a board discussion. I follow the policies that they want to set. I try to help guide them so that they can see what’s going on so they are aware of things.
I’m familiar enough with it; I’ve lived in Virginia for a long time so I’m familiar enough with a little of the history. But in all of the nuclear stuff that I’ve done for the last 12-13 years, I’ve not really dealt with mining issues per se.
But I did a lot of work in New Mexico on uranium enrichment and am aware of the mine history and legacy and all of the issues that come at us even though we weren’t involved in that.
Adams: And it’s very important for us as communicators to help people understand that history is not what we’re doing today. We don’t do mining the same way they were doing it in New Mexico in the 1950s. It’s a completely different animal.
Cohen: But we have to be cognizant of experiences. You know there are no boundaries on those things, even more so now with the Internet. So we need to be prepared. Well educated, well in- formed and prepared if we’re going to move forward.
And even if we’re going to make presentations to the VNEC board, we’re going to want to give a thorough presentation. I’d be happy to bring it to them.
Adams: I’ll recommend to Virginia Uranium that they talk to you and also that they talk to you about becoming a member.
If this was not a nuclear thing, it would seem very strange indeed to realize that a state whose government has created a structure like VNECA and VNEC also has rejected efforts to overturn a three decade old “temporary” moratorium on uranium mining.
Since we’re talking about nuclear, no one should be at all surprised.
Note: A slightly different version of the above first appeared in the Nuclear Buzz column of the December 17, 2015 edition of Fuel Cycle Week. This version includes an expanded description of the VNECA membership and a correction of a typo in the list of corporations from “Hitachi” to “GE-Hitachi.” It is reprinted here with permission.