Three Mile Island plant to close
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.