Exelon to shut down Three Mile Island

Article by Amanda Jasi

Three Mile Island made headlines in 1979 when its second reactor partially melted down

THE infamous Three Mile Island nuclear power plant is set to shutdown due to government inaction.

Plant owner, Exelon Generation has said the site’s only remaining reactor will shut down by 30 September after lawmakers failed to enact policy reforms the company said in 2017 were needed to keep the Pennsylvania plant operating.

Neither the US House of Representatives or the US Senate took action and in early May Exelon announced that state policy would not be enacted before June in time to reverse the decision to prematurely close the power plant. TMI 1 is currently licenced to operate until 2034, reports World Nuclear News (WNN).

The shut down is due to “economic challenges and market flaws that fail to recognise the environmental and resiliency benefits from TMI and other zero-carbon nuclear energy plants” across Pennsylvania, said Exelon.

In April, the company filed a federally required Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report detailing plans for the nuclear power plant after final shutdown, including the transitioning of staff down from more than 600 today to 50-full time employees by 2022. In the filing, Exelon also selected the decommissioning option SAFSTOR, and outlined plans to dismantle large components of the plant. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in the SAFSTOR method a nuclear facility is placed and maintained in a condition that allows it to be safety stored and subsequently decontaminated to levels that enable unrestricted use.

The New York Times reports that decommissioning costs are estimated at US$1.2bn.

World Nuclear News (WNN) reported that legislation known as the Keep Powering Pennsylvania Act would update the state’s existing alternative energy portfolio. The Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) Act supports 16 clean power sources, including solar, wind, and hydro energy. The update would be to recognise nuclear power for its significant contribution to Pennsylvania’s zero-carbon energy production. Without action from the House or Senate, the update will not be enacted.

Nuclear power generates 40% of Pennsylvania’s total electricity and about 93% of its zero-emissions energy, according to WNN. The power source also helps Pennsylvania to avoid 37m t/y of carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, nuclear energy contributes US$2bn to the state’s economy and 16,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Exelon said that without the relevant reforms, the loss of nuclear as a power source in Pennsylvania will increase air pollution and raise energy prices for consumers. The IEA has issued a similar warning in a recent report, noting that the world is at risk of a steep decline in nuclear power, and that a fall in advanced economies threatens climate goals and energy security.

TMI 1 directly employs 675 workers, and contracts 1,500 local union workers for refuelling outages. Exelon’s employees will continue to operate TMI 1 through September, with transitions expected within six months of the plant’s closure. Exelon has been working with its employees for two years to map them to other positions, and some have already accepted other placements within the company. Exelon said that it will continue to support employees during transitions.

Brian Hanson, Senior Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer at Exelon, said: “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.”

“I want to thank the hundreds of men and women who will continue to safely operate TMI through September. We will offer a position elsewhere in Exelon to every employee who wishes to stay with the company and is willing to relocate, and we will do all we can to support the community, the employees, and their families during this difficult period.”

Kathleen Barrón, Senior Vice President of Exelon, said: “While TMI will close in September as planned, the state has eight other zero-carbon nuclear units that provide around-the-clock clean energy, avoiding millions of tons of carbon emissions every year. We will continue to work with the legislature and all stakeholders to enact policies that will secure a clean energy future for all Pennsylvanians.”

Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania Governor, said: “I still believe it is essential to continue this important conversation about preserving and growing Pennsylvania’s carbon-free energy footprint. I remain hopeful that a consensus on a path forward can be reached in the coming weeks.”

Three Mile Island made headlines in 1979 when its second reactor partially melted down.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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