EXELON is to close its Three Mile Island nuclear generating plant on 30 September 2019, just days after failing to win any capacity payments in the regional electricity grid auctions for the third year in a row.
The 837 MW capacity plant in Middletown, Pennsylvania began operations in September 1974 and in 2009, received a 20-year extension to its operating licence from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, for the past five years, the Three Mile Island site has not been profitable. This is partly due to not having anywhere to sell the electricity but also due to energy policies.
The company said that there is a lack of state and federal energy policies which support nuclear energy as a low-carbon electricity source. Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) in particular supports 16 clean power sources, including solar, wind and hydro, but excludes nuclear energy. Exelon says that Three Mile Island has avoided 37m t of carbon emissions, the equivalent of keeping 10m cars off the road every year. If the AEPS was amended to include nuclear as a clean energy source, Pennsylvania could preserve its nuclear plants, according to Exelon, along with 16,000 jobs directly and indirectly related to nuclear power generation and nuclear’s US$2bn/y contribution to the economy. Other states, such as New York and Illinois, do support nuclear energy.
Exelon met with staff and local officials to make the announcement. Within the next 30 days it will send grid operator PJM a deactivation notice and a permanent shutdown notice to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It will terminate all capital investment projects necessary for the long-term running of the plant and cancel fuel purchases and outage planning.
“Today is a difficult day, not just for the 675 talented men and women who have dedicated themselves to operating Three Mile Island safely and reliably every day, but also for their families, the communities and customers who depend on this plant to produce clean energy and support local jobs,” said Chris Crane, Exelon president and CEO, adding: “We are committed to working with all stakeholders to secure Pennsylvania’s energy future, and will do all we can to support the community, the employees and their families during this difficult period.”
Three Mile Island was the site of the worst commercial nuclear accident in the US. On 28 March 1979, reactor number 2 partially melted down. A relief valve stuck open, allowing large amounts of coolant to escape. Various operator errors, blamed on insufficient training, meant that the incident was not recognised until it was too late. Radioactive gases and iodine were released into the environment. The accident resulted in stricter regulations for nuclear operations. Subsequent epidemiological studies have not linked the releases to cancer rates in the area. The cleanup, which cost around US$1bn, was finished in 1993.
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.