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Youngkin shares his vision for nuclear energy at Surry power plant

A person wearing a suit speaks at a podium. Signs on either side read "Surry Power Station."
Laura Philion
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks about Virginia’s nuclear energy future at a celebration of the Surry County nuclear power plant on Monday.

The governor was there to mark the 50th anniversary of the plant's opening.

Read the original story on WHRO's website.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants Virginia to embrace emerging nuclear energy infrastructure, calling it the state’s “moonshot.”

"It is affordable, it is increasingly clean, it is reliable and I’m excited about the opportunity to develop a small, modular reactor infrastructure to go along with these big commercial reactors that can power the future of the commonwealth,” he said at the Surry Power Station on Monday.

He was there to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the nuclear plant in Surry County, which recently got approval to continue operating for 30 years. It's the only nuclear reactor in the country approved to operate for that long.

“What you've heard is that this plant runs 24 by seven, 365 days a year, delivering clean, reliable, affordable power to Virginians,” Youngkin said. “It's what makes Virginia go.”

Another nuclear power station in Louisa County powers about 450,000 homes in Virginia, according to Dominion Energy.

But to keep up with rising energy demands, Youngkin said he wants to position the state to get a modular nuclear reactor online in the next decade.

Modular reactors are an emerging technology that the federal Department of Energy has said requires less land and capital to build, translating to more affordable energy costs.

Federal regulators approved the country's first modular reactor design earlier this year.

“This is our moonshot moment, and we cannot miss it,” Youngkin said in Surry.

He said Virginia is well positioned to become a leader in nuclear energy due to the state’s collegiate nuclear engineering programs, economic development funds and supply chain abilities.

He also noted that Dominion Energy, which already operates both nuclear plants in Virginia, projects using six small modular reactors within the next 15 years.

'We will continue to innovate our way to the future'

Eric Carr, the Surry plant’s chief nuclear officer, said there hasn’t been an unplanned power outage at Surry in more than four years.

“These plants are the carbon-free baseload workhorses of the energy grid,” he said. “They're here day in, day out, rain or shine, no matter what.”

Local pastor Robert Elliott echoed Carr. A Surry native, Elliott said Dominion approached county leaders about opening a plant there in the early 1970s.

“There was a lot of apprehension about a nuclear facility coming into Surry,” Elliott said. “But Dominion made promises that they were going to do everything to keep Surry County safe. And they have been a great partner. They have done just that.”

Youngkin used this backdrop of safety as a springboard to talk about his vision for Virginia’s nuclear growth.

“We will continue to innovate our way to the future,” Youngkin said. “We will embrace all nuclear, carbon capture, advanced storage with wind and solar, hydrogen — it's all part of the future, along with a workhorse natural gas infrastructure that is part of the clean future of Virginia.”

Youngkin supported removing Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions by making electric utilities pay for the carbon they emit. The state Air Pollution Control Board board voted in June to remove the state from the program by the end of this year.

Youngkin previously said that since Virginia’s greenhouse gas emissions were decreasing before it joined RGGI, he felt the program was unnecessary and a burden on rate payers. He’s also claimed it doesn’t actually reduce pollution, instead shifting power production to other states.

The governor said Virginia is growing and with that, so does the demand for energy. Nuclear energy, he said, is positioned to meet that new demand.

“Families and businesses need to have the confidence that they have a reliable power supply,” he said. “And that's what nuclear has been providing now for 50 years.”