Surry nuclear plant to replace sirens with wireless alerts

Published 4:07 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Starting March 1, Dominion Energy’s Surry Nuclear Power Station will replace its warning sirens with wireless alerts that will come to every cell phone within a 10-mile radius.

According to Dominion’s website, the wireless alerts will have several advantages over the sirens, among them the ability to reach people indoors or in a vehicle who typically wouldn’t be able to hear the sirens. They’ll also deliver real-time information on the nature of the emergency and whether evacuation is warranted, rather than simply producing noise.

The cell phone alert technology, developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2012, is the same as what is currently used to send Amber Alerts and severe weather warnings.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The new system will use GPS targeting to reach residents and visitors alike. As long as a person’s phone is on, capable of receiving messages and near one of the designated cell towers, it will receive the message, said Ken Holt, manager of Dominion’s nuclear fleet communications.

Dominion has scheduled one final quarterly test of its warning sirens for Dec. 8 at 11:10 a.m. At this time, 71 sirens in Surry and Isle of Wight counties, and on the Peninsula, will produce a steady, three-minute tone. In the event of an actual emergency, the sirens would produce four separate three-minute tones, each 15 minutes apart.

After the Dec. 8 test, “People will only get an alert if there’s an actual emergency which would require them to take action,” Holt said.

The wireless system, he explained, is tested on a regular basis, without the need to send quarterly test notifications to area residents. Dominion’s North Anna nuclear power station in Louisa County will also transition from sirens to wireless alerts effective March 1.

The Surry nuclear plant has been operating since the early 1970s. Earlier this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Dominion’s request to continue operating the plant into the 2050s.