Virginia Tech’s Nuclear History: The Rise, Fall, and Possible Resurgence
Virginia Tech, like many universities in the United States, once had its own nuclear reactor. It operated from 1960 until 1985 and was built during the height of the Cold War with a plan to produce a generation of nuclear engineers and experts. However, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, along with the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, combined to stunt the growth of the nuclear industry and lead to the closure of Virginia Tech’s reactor. Despite this, there is now talk of a possible resurgence of nuclear energy in Virginia, thanks to Gov. Glenn Youngkin and a renewed interest in the field.
The Rise and Fall of Virginia Tech’s Research Reactor
During the 1940s through the 1970s, about 70 small nuclear reactors were constructed for teaching purposes, with most of those built on college campuses across the United States. Virginia Tech’s reactor, which started up in early 1960, was one of the first of its kind to be housed on a college campus. The university hoped to produce new nuclear engineers for a brave new nuclear future. However, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 shook the public’s confidence in the nuclear industry, leading to a decrease in demand for nuclear engineers like those studying at Virginia Tech. Chernobyl in 1986 further slapped down the growth of the nuclear-generated power in the United States, and eventually led to the closure of Virginia Tech’s reactor in 1985.
A Possible Resurgence of Nuclear Energy in Virginia
There has been talk of a possible resurgence of nuclear energy in Virginia, with Governor Glenn Youngkin and a host of Virginia politicians backing small modular reactors. Virginia Tech has also revved up its nuclear engineering program since it was relaunched in 2007. The school’s professors are urging more investment in nuclear technology, and they could build microreactors, small enough to be hauled in trailers that could provide power as well as education opportunities. Colleges in other states are already doing this. Alireza Haghighat, Director of Virginia Tech’s nuclear engineering program, has advised Virginia governors on nuclear issues and helped develop the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority, which brought energy companies together with other schools like UVa, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Liberty University to work for the continued development of a statewide nuclear industry.
– The Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium is now focusing on the development of small modular reactors, and Virginia has recently passed legislation aimed at promoting the use of these reactors in the state.
– There are currently no operational nuclear reactors in Virginia, but the Virginia Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Development Authority is looking to change that by possibly 2028.
– Small modular reactors are being hailed as a promising and safe alternative to traditional large-scale reactors, and Virginia Tech is at the forefront of the movement to promote their use.
– Some of the benefits of small modular reactors include lower costs and reduced risks to the environment and public safety.
Virginia Tech once had its own nuclear reactor, and although it was decommissioned and removed in the 1980s, there is a renewed interest in nuclear energy in Virginia. With Governor Glenn Youngkin’s support for small modular reactors, the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority’s work, and Virginia Tech’s push for more investment in nuclear technology, the state could see a resurgence in nuclear power.
Virginia Tech’s nuclear history reflects a time in which the world was fascinated by the potential of nuclear energy, but it also highlights the industry’s woes following major disasters. Now, with a renewed interest in small modular reactors, Virginia Tech and the state of Virginia has the potential to lead the way in a new era of safe, cost-effective nuclear power.