Press Release

Local citizen groups express concerns about nuclear development

As Gov. Youngkin pushes forward nuclear energy, he has a responsibility to engage local community members and landowners

October 14, 2022

Dan Radmacher, Media Specialist, (540) 798-6683,

WISE COUNTY, Virginia — On Friday morning, Gov. Glenn Youngkin and a select group of invitees gathered near Norton to announce the governor’s “moonshot” plan to site a small modular nuclear reactor on former coal mine land in Southwest Virginia. The announcement comes as a surprise to many key stakeholders in the region, and no local citizen groups were informed about the governor’s visit — nor have any been invited to participate in the planning of the location and development of the new energy infrastructure.

Youngkin released his 2022 Energy Plan last week. Concerned organizations feel that these plans are moving forward without meaningful engagement from area residents or other key players in the robust community and economic development ecosystem that has worked for decades to rebuild the region’s economy, especially given that small modular nuclear reactors have yet to be constructed anywhere in the world. These groups call on the governor, Virginia Energy, the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority and the new Inter-agency Task Force to host community listening sessions and propose plans for meaningful public engagement early and often as they explore this technology.

“Project development processes that leave out community voices is the wrong way to build support for a proposal,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy & Organizing of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “Time and again the way residents learn about a new project is through a press announcement. There is every reason to be skeptical about the benefits of a project when it’s planned behind closed doors. It is essential to have opportunities for discussion where residents and neighbors can question: What do we get out of this? What are the risks?”

“Such massive and risky economic development, like building nuclear reactors, should not be rushed or go forward without deep and sincere community engagement,” said Sharon Fisher, president of The Clinch Coalition. “Our government officials and industry partners should lead by example and ensure that projects are ecologically and economically beneficial and have community support. If Southwest Virginia wants to create true innovation and equity in its energy landscape, it needs to listen to the households that will have energy projects in their backyards and give them a seat at the planning table.”

“We support clean energy development in the coalfields, especially projects that remediate the impacts of the coal industry and create good jobs for local residents,” said Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices. “We are committed to working with our local partners and communities to ensure that the federal funds that have recently been made available create a new sustainable economy and advance environmental justice. While innovation and development of new technologies is essential to transition to a carbon-neutral economy, we have an opportunity to create a new model of energy production that centers equity, justice and communities. So far, it appears that this effort misses that opportunity — all the more alarming given the well-documented social and environmental problems associated with nuclear energy.”

“We have an opportunity in Southwest Virginia to grow a sustainable, diversified, and equitable economy that builds prosperity for all,” said Terran Young, president of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “If those living in our communities are excluded from decision-making about our future, how can we be expected to trust and accept the choices foisted upon us from Richmond and beyond?”


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