Twenty-five years after a power company last got permission to build a nuclear reactor in this country, Dominion has signaled its interest in doubling the size of its North Anna power plant, 80 miles south of Washington, with two new reactors.
The company has filed an initial application -- called an "early site permit" -- to build two more reactors at its plant on Lake Anna. It is a preliminary step in a complex process that, if followed, would take more than a decade and cost millions of dollars. And it has attracted attention from anti-nuclear activists and some local residents.
People's Alliance worker Abhaya Thiele, left, shares information with Anna Point Marina store manager Brenda Hydro.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
Federal energy officials predict that electricity needs will rise nearly 40 percent by 2020, and Dominion, which provides 17 percent of Virginia's electricity, says expanding the North Anna facility would help meet the demands of a ballooning Washington area population. North Anna powers 450,000 homes. Doubling its size would feed an additional 400,000, the company says.
Currently, Virginia gets 35 percent of its power from nuclear sources, and Maryland gets 28 percent, compared with the national average of 24 percent. As America's appetite for electricity expands, the Bush administration is looking to the nuclear industry to help meet the demand by adding the equivalent of 50 new reactors to the country's 103 by 2020.
But Dominion's intentions, however preliminary, have spawned opposition.
Anti-nuclear activists have descended on the Lake Anna area since the company filed a preliminary permit application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last fall, visiting fairs, diners and convenience stores to speak out against the expansion. A group based in Charlottesville has sprung up, calling itself the People's Alliance for Clean Energy, and a conference on the expansion at the Lake Anna plant was scheduled for this weekend at the University of Virginia.
In the recreation-minded community that has grown around the lake, there has been reaction of a different sort.
Bill Borduin, a retiree from New Jersey who chairs a local committee on the possible expansion, said residents worry that two more reactors, which would need to be cooled by Lake Anna water, would mean a drop in water levels, leaving boats beached and docks high and dry. Some are concerned that the water used to cool the reactors would be so warm when it reenters the lake that it would raise lake temperature levels too high for comfortable swimming.
"Also, I bet it would create an enormous amount of humidity," Borduin said.
The local civic association also has questioned how the water temperature and levels might affect fish.
Such leisure-oriented concerns should not be surprising. Most of the people who live around Lake Anna, which straddles Spotsylvania, Orange and Louisa counties, moved there to be near the 13,000-acre lake, created in 1971 to cool water for the nuclear power plant, located in Louisa County.
In addition to $10 million in annual tax revenue for the county, the plant provides 900 jobs, making Dominion the largest employer in Louisa County.
Fitzgerald A. Barnes, chairman of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, said he has not gotten a single phone call about Dominion's application.
"Not nay or yea," he said. "People here worry about working and trying to raise their families."