The staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has backed Dominion Energy’s application to extend operations at its Surry Power Station by 20 years, into the 2050s.
The move means that Dominion’s nuclear power plant in Surry County has been certified for an 80-year lifespan.
The Surry plant, on the south bank of the James River about 17 miles northwest of Newport News, saw its first reactor open in December 1972 and its second in May 1973. The NRC said in a statement that Surry Unit 1’s renewed license will expire May 25, 2052, and the renewed license for unit 2 will expire on Jan. 29, 2053.
“Extending Surry’s operations is critical to Dominion Energy meeting the Virginia Clean Economy Act’s requirements for zero-carbon electricity by 2045,” Dan Stoddard, Dominion Energy’s chief nuclear officer, said in a statement.
“It also positions Virginia for continued economic growth and will help the Commonwealth remain a leader in the production of clean energy in the mid-Atlantic and South,” Stoddard said. “It supports more than 900 high-paying jobs at the station and produces additional economic and tax benefits.”
The Virginia Clean Economy Act, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed in 2020, seeks to emphasize energy from renewable sources like wind and solar. It requires that by 2045, all of the energy sold by the state’s electric utilities not be carbon-based.
Last Friday, the State Corporation Commission approved nine new solar farms that Dominion said will total nearly 500 megawatts, or “enough to power 125,000 homes at peak output with renewable energy.”
Dominion says the two Surry nuclear units are “capable of producing clean electricity for 419,000 homes.” It had submitted the renewal application for the Surry reactors in October 2018.
Last year Dominion applied for a renewal of licenses at its two nuclear reactor units at the North Anna nuclear plant in Louisa County, and the NRC review is continuing.
Together, the Surry and North Anna plants produce nearly a third of the electricity for Dominion’s 2.7 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, the company said.
John Cruickshank, a member of the executive committee of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, raised concerns about extending the lifespan of nuclear plants to 80 years.
“The nuclear power plants in Virginia were originally designed to operate for 40 years. Many people who are familiar with nuclear power do not believe that they can safely generate electricity for twice as long,” he said. “The reactor core and other equipment weaken over time and there is an increased chance of serious malfunctions. This is particularly a concern at the North Anna Power Station, which experienced a significant earthquake in 2011.”
The Surry plant is not the first to reach the 80-year certification milestone. The Miami Herald reported in December 2019 that federal regulators had signed off on Florida Power and Light’s application for a 20-year extension for reactors at Turkey Point along Biscayne Bay. The NRC said at the time that the Florida plant’s renewal was the first time it had authorized extending reactor operations from 60 years to 80 years.