Legislature too late to save Three Mile Island, owner says

Regional News
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MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – The company that owns and operates Three Mile Island says it’s clear there will be no financial rescue from the state Legislature in time to save the nuclear power plant.

Exelon Generation said Wednesday that it is moving forward with a planned shutdown of TMI by September 30.

Exelon said with only three legislative session days remaining in May and no action to advance bills that could prevent a closing, “it is clear a state policy solution will not be enacted before June 1, in time to reverse the premature retirement of the plant.”

June 1 is the fuel purchasing deadline for TMI.

“Today is a difficult day for our employees, who were hopeful that state policymakers would support valuing carbon-free nuclear energy the same way they value other forms of clean energy in time to save TMI from a premature closure,” Bryan Hanson, Exelon senior vice president and chief nuclear officer said in a statement Wednesday.

Hanson said every employee who wishes to stay with Exelon and is willing to relocate will be offered a position elsewhere in the company.

State Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) called Exelon’s announcement the worst news he’s received since taking office last year. Mehaffie authored House Bill 11, one of two proposals that would have provided a financial rescue for TMI and Pennsylvania’s other nuclear power plants.

“Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in the Legislature ran out the clock, and the loss of 675 family-sustaining jobs in Dauphin County is on them,” Mehaffie said in a statement.

“I hope the conversation continues in the Legislature about the future of Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry. We still have eight reactors in this state supplying a large piece of our state’s electricity production. Time may have run out for Three Mile Island, but the fight is not over for the rest of our nuclear fleet.”

Exelon last month filed decommissioning plans for TMI after the plant’s final shutdown.

In the federally required Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Exelon said used nuclear fuel will be transitioned into a spent fuel pool then moved to dry cask storage by the end of 2022. 

Facility staffing will decrease in three phases from 675 to 50 full-time employees by 2022, and dismantling of the station’s cooling towers and other large components will begin in 2074, Exelon said.

Spent fuel pools are where spent fuel assemblies are kept under at least 20 feet of water to shield anyone near the pool from radiation. The assemblies are moved into the water pools from the reactor along the bottom of water canals so that the spent fuel is always shielded to protect workers, according to the NRC’s website.

Dry cask storage allows spent fuel that has already been cooled in the spent fuel pool for at least one year to be surrounded by inert gas inside a container. The containers, or casks, are typically steel cylinders either welded or bolted closed to confine the spent fuel, according to the NRC. Each cylinder is surrounded by additional steel, concrete, or other material to shield workers and the public from radiation.

TMI’s used nuclear fuel in dry cask storage will be protected in a hardened facility with multiple layers of structural, human and electronic security, Exelon said.

Exelon announced in 2017 that it would shut down Three Mile Island unless the state stepped in to help. The Illinois-based company said TMI hasn’t turned a profit in years because of low wholesale power prices and the “lack of federal or Pennsylvania energy policies that value zero-emissions nuclear energy.”

Cheap natural gas from Marcellus Shale reservoirs has been flooding the power market. The nuclear power industry has been lobbying lawmakers in Pennsylvania and other states for a financial rescue.

Exelon announced in 2016 that it would close two nuclear power stations in Illinois and two others in upstate New York. Those plans were called off after lawmakers in both states voted to raise electricity rates to bail out the power plants.

Exelon owns and operates Three Mile Island Generating Station Unit 1. It is licensed to operate until 2034.

TMI’s Unit 2 has not operated since the 1979 accident that severely damaged the reactor core.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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