Three Mile Is­land plant to close

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARC LEVY

The cool­ing tow­ers at the Three Mile Is­land nu­clear power plant are seen in Middletown, Pa. Ex­elon Corp., owner of Three Mile Is­land, site of the United States’ worst com­mer­cial nu­clear power ac­ci­dent, said Mon­day it will shut down the plant in 2019 with­out a fi­nan­cial res­cue from Penn­syl­va­nia.

Cheap nat­u­ral gas could do what the worst com­mer­cial nu­clear power ac­ci­dent in U.S. his­tory could not: put Three Mile Is­land out of busi­ness.

Three Mile Is­land’s owner, Ex­elon Corp., an­nounced Tues­day that the plant that was the site of a ter­ri­fy­ing par­tial melt­down in 1979 will close in 2019 un­less the state of Penn­syl­va­nia comes to its fi­nan­cial res­cue.

Nu­clear power plants around the U.S. have been strug­gling in re­cent years to com­pete with gen­er­at­ing sta­tions that burn plen­ti­ful and in­ex­pen­sive nat­u­ral gas to pro­duce elec­tric­ity.

The Chicago-based en­ergy com­pany’s an­nounce­ment came af­ter what it called more than five years of losses at the sin­gle-re­ac­tor plant and Three Mile Is­land’s re­cent failure to be se­lected as a guar­an­teed sup­plier of power to the re­gional elec­tric grid.

Ex­elon wants Penn­syl­va­nia to give nu­clear power the kind of pref­er­en­tial treat­ment and pre­mium pay­ments that are ex­tended to re­new­able forms of en­ergy, such as wind and so­lar. It has not said how much it wants.

Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Tom Wolf has made no com­mit­ment to a bailout. In a state­ment Tues­day, Wolf said he is con­cerned about lay­offs at Three Mile Is­land and open to dis­cus­sions about the fu­ture of nu­clear power. Ex­elon em­ploys 675 peo­ple at the plant, whose li­cense does not ex­pire un­til 2034.

Nu­clear bailouts have won ap­proval in Illi­nois and New York, but the po­ten­tial for higher util­ity bills in Penn­syl­va­nia is gen­er­at­ing re­sis­tance from ri­val en­ergy com­pa­nies, man­u­fac­tur­ers and con­sumer ad­vo­cates.

In De­cem­ber, Illi­nois ap­proved $235 mil­lion a year for Ex­elon to prop up nu­clear plants in the Quad Cities and Clin­ton, six months af­ter the com­pany threat­ened to shut them down.

FirstEn­ergy Corp. has said it could de­cide next year to sell or close its three nu­clear plants — Davis-Besse and Perry in Ohio and Beaver Val­ley in Penn­syl­va­nia. PSEG of New Jersey, which owns all or parts of four nu­clear plants, has said it won’t op­er­ate ones that are long-term money losers.

Built dur­ing a golden age for nu­clear power, Three Mile Is­land’s Unit 1 went on­line in 1974 and Unit 2 in 1978, cough­ing steam into the air above its sliver of land in the Susque­hanna River, about 10 miles from Har­ris­burg.

In March 1979, equip­ment failure and op­er­a­tor er­rors led to a par­tial core melt­down of Unit 2, lead­ing to sev­eral days of fear and prompt­ing 144,000 peo­ple to flee their homes amid con­flict­ing or ill-in­formed in­for­ma­tion from util­ity and govern­ment of­fi­cials.

Clos­ing Three Mile Is­land would have lit­tle or no ef­fect on elec­tric­ity bills, an­a­lysts say. But the power may be re­placed by elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by car­bon-emit­ting fu­els such as coal or gas.

Be­cause of the flood of nat­u­ral gas on the mar­ket, a lot of it from the North­east’s Mar­cel­lus Shale for­ma­tion, dozens of new gas-fired plants are com­ing on­line or planned. At the same times, states are putting more em­pha­sis on re­new­able en­ergy and ef­fi­ciency.


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