Threats & DRBA's Response

There are many threats to our local environment right now. DRBA works with local, regional, state and national partners to help protect the Dan River Basin for future generations. The Stewardship Fund provides funding to obtain special expertise when needed to stop the threat.

Duke Energy Belews Creek Steam Station

Many of you know that it was DRBA that identified the potential for a collapse of the coal ash pond at the Duke Energy Dan River Station in our Pathways Plan more than three years before the horrific accident occurred in February, 2014.  We tried to fix the problem before tons of coal ash spilled into our beloved Dan River, but we were not heard by those in leadership. 

Although we were unsuccessful in preventing the event before it happened, we were the only nonprofit organization invited to the table with Duke Energy, the EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and both North Carolina and Virginia state departments to fix what could have easily been avoided.  

It was DRBA, alongside other groups, that legally held Duke Energy accountable for the accident. A  decade later, only DRBA is still working to mitigate any legacy issues and monitoring the health of our regional waterways. 

It was DRBA that suggested Duke Energy launch the Clean Water Fund in 2015 to provide millions of dollars in support of projects that protect, promote and conserve our natural resources in the Dan River Basin. Since then, DRBA has worked with Duke Energy on many projects that helped protect and improve access to our watershed including land donations, park and trail improvements, water quality testing, environmental education programs and volunteer events. 

Many of you may know that North Carolina has approved legislation that prohibits coal mining and production after 2035 (House Bill 951 Energy Solutions for North Carolina).   This legislative decision is the foundation for the proposed Duke Energy Nuclear Project at the Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, NC.   

Duke Energy reached out to DRBA to discuss the process, decisions and issues surrounding the proposal to construct a nuclear reactor at the Belews Creek Steam Station.

In early October, DRBA board and staff members met at our office in Eden, NC with those responsible for the project at Duke Energy.  For two hours we asked questions, pored over research and explored alternatives.  Their representatives were forthcoming with information. Here is what we learned from this initial meeting:

  • The project is in the proposal phase and has not been confirmed by the company. 
  • Duke Energy is preparing multiple options to replace coal including solar, onshore wind, battery, pumped storage, natural gas and advanced nuclear and determined that the Belews Creek site is an ideal location to pursue advanced nuclear. 
  • Duke Energy operates 11 nuclear units at six sites in North Carolina and South Carolina. Together, these facilities can generate about 10,700 megawatts. Currently, Duke Energy's nuclear plants generate about half of the electricity for their customers in the Carolinas. 
  • The first step is permitting and the soonest Duke Energy can complete this process is in 2031.
  • The soonest construction would be complete is 2034. 

What we know about nuclear power plants:

  • Energy from one re-usable nuclear fuel pellet equals one ton of coal.
  • Used fuel is required to be stored on-site in fuel pools or dry cask storage facilities which are inspected by federal regulators. 
  • Fuel pools are stored for 50 years in steel-lined, concrete under 20 feet of water
  • A typical 1,000-megawatt nuclear facility in the United States needs a little more than 1 square mile to operate. NEI says wind farms require 360 times more land area to produce the same amount of electricity and solar photovoltaic plants require 75 times more space.(1)

Our next steps in the coming months:

  • DRBA staff and board members have requested to tour a similar Duke Energy nuclear plant site in North Carolina.  
  • DRBA will contact other environmental groups across the country who have a similar nuclear site in their watershed to better understand the potential and real impact of a project like this. 

Everyone wants and needs energy.  Everyone wants heat in the winter, light when it’s dark and air conditioners working in the summer. We want, and sometimes need, the internet. We expect to plug things in and reliably have them turn on. 

But with all types of energy, there are negative environmental impacts. The negative impacts of using coal/fossil fuels are well-known.  With solar, there are issues with the large footprint needed, times of day and year it runs at full capacity and toxic seepage into groundwater from old panels (2); with wind, you find issues with bird fatalities and again, when it’s not windy, there’s no power (3); with natural gas, there are issues with groundwater contamination that comes from fracking (4); and with batteries, the technology is still not ready for high volume energy output or storage and both manufacturing and disposal of battery technology is a matter of concern (5). With nuclear power, a major environmental concern is related to the management of radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, disposal of spent reactor fuel, and other radioactive by-products (6). 

It is obvious that there is not one easy answer to replacing the coal facility at Belews Creek Steam Station by 2035.  You can be assured, however, that DRBA will not shy away from conflict nor will we jump on hysterical bandwagons. DRBA differs from other environmental organizations in our approach to protecting our watershed.  We strive to understand all sides of an issue before determining our position. 

We will not rush our decision, nor be bullied to take a position, until we are confident we have done our research. 

NOTE: The information above will be updated as DRBA learns more.


1 Office of Nuclear Energy,

2 The Dark Side of Solar Power, Harvard Business Review, June 18, 2021 by Atalay Atasu, Serasu Duran, and Luk N. Van Wassenhove


4 Natural Gas Explained, U.S.Energy Information Administration,

6 Nuclear Regulatory Commission,

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill & Coal Ash Waste in the Dan River Basin

Find media, resources and links related to the Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill and coal ash waste in the Dan River Basin here.

Uranium Mining

DRBA's board of directors passed a resolution in 2011 showing support for maintaining the ban on uranium mining in Virginia and have sponsored several events to help educate the public about the issues related to uranium mining. DRBA continues to work with regional partners to maintain the ban on uranium mining in our region and is a contributing member of the Keep the Ban Coalition. 

Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

DRBA's board of directors passed a resolution showing support for maintaining the moratorium on "fracking" in North Carolina in 2019. We have sponsored several educational events to help our region understand what fracking is and how it can affect our water including a showing of "Gasland" and public outreach meetings. Learn more about fracking and clean water issues in North Carolina  the issue here.

Model Forest Policy Program (MFPP)

DRBA is the first to develop a Model Forest Policy Program Implementation Plan which focuses on climate change strategies in Rockingham County, NC. Focused on protecting the natural resources of region, the plan provides a roadmap to keep the air, land and water sustained for future generations. Learn more.

Proposed MVP Construction

The proposed MVP Southgate would be located in DRBA's service area and would have a direct and daily impact on the lives of residents and visitors who live, play, work and visit in this region. This impact would occur during the construction and operational phases of this proposed project across the multitude of acres of property in both Virginia and North Carolina in the Roanoke River Basin and the Cape Fear River Basin. In 2019, DRBA's board of directors provided public comment to FERC with regard to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate Extension (MVP Southgate) and continues to follow the progress of the project. T

Based on review of the DEIS, the DRBA Board of Directors believe the Mountain Valley LLC partners and Equitrans LP (MVP Partners) have not demonstrated public need for the MVP Southgate Extension and that the MVP Partners have repeatedly failed to meet its commitment to environmental protection during construction of the MVP mainline in Virginia and West Virginia. In addition, DRBA believes the MVP Southgate project will do significant harm to water and air quality; fish and wildlife; forest and farmlands; wetlands, rivers and streams and that no negative environmental impact, no matter how “temporary” or “insignificant", is warranted for a project that does not clearly and demonstrably meet a critical public need. 


Littering is illegal, but it still happens and is a major issue throughout the Dan River basin. Litter is more than an eyesore along our highways; it pollutes waterways, kills animals and as it breaks down, leaches many chemicals into our soil and groundwater. DRBA's staff addresses the problems by holding several cleanups throughout the year and works with other organizations to get the message out to the community so they can help keep our natural resources beautiful and clean.

Success Story: Proposed Landfill in Eden, NC

A regional landfill was proposed to be constructed within feet of the Dan River just upstream from the community's drinking water intake in 2011. DRBA hired legal assistance, with the help of many donors and sponsors, to stop the proposed landfill development and after several years, the project was cancelled. The site is now proposed to be a public park and river access.