Construction delays have been announced at the $363 million Areva Newport News facility that would make large components for the nuclear power industry. In Pittsylvania County, opposition to a proposal to mine about 119 million pounds of uranium, worth about $8 billion, seems to be growing.
The Old Dominion is a major center for the nuclear industry. French-owned Areva has its North American headquarters in Lynchburg, where it provides maintenance crews and parts to service nuclear power stations throughout the United States. Dominion Virginia Power operates four nuclear units in the state. A Newport News shipyard that has just been spun off to Huntington Ingalls by Northrop Grumman is the only yard in the country that can build nuclear-powered surface ships.
As worries over disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl faded and concerns about climate change grew, Virginia seemed well-positioned to cash in on its civilian nuclear prowess.
But the March 11 accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant has changed all of that. Japan and Germany are limiting or phasing out their reliance on nuclear power, although developing nations such as China, Mexico and Iran are pressing on.
The market uncertainty has prompted Areva Newport News, owned by Areva and Huntington Ingalls, to announced May 9 that it was halting construction of its Newport News components facility, which would employ 540. Company officials cited unfavorable market conditions but said that building could begin again if that changes. Construction had begun in 2009.
Meanwhile, the new anti-nuclear atmosphere is giving a boost to the 41 groups and localities that oppose Virginia Uranium Inc.’s plans to mine uranium in Pittsylvania County and create 300 jobs. The state has banned uranium mining but the General Assembly may reconsider it in 2012. “We are not willing to risk our health and our property values and our future for low-quality jobs with such a toxic result,” Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry chapter of the NAACP, was quoted as saying in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.