Three Mile Island unit 1 closure confirmed

09 May 2019

Three Mile Island (TMI) unit 1 will shut down by 30 September as no state-level policy solution can now be enacted in time to reverse the premature retirement of the Pennsylvania plant, Exelon Generation announced yesterday.

Nuclear industry labour leaders rallying on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol on 6 May in support of legislation to recognise nuclear energy for its contribution to zero-carbon energy production (Image: Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania)

The company announced in May 2017 that without policy reforms the 819 MWe (net) pressurised water reactor would close this year due to economic challenges and the failure of the market to recognise the environmental and resiliency benefits of nuclear generation. Legislation known as the Keep Powering Pennsylvania Act, which would update the state's existing alternative energy portfolio standards legislation to recognise nuclear energy for its significant contribution to zero-carbon energy production, was introduced in the state's legislature earlier this year, but no action to progress the draft bills has been taken in either the House or Senate. With only three legislative session days remaining in May, Exelon said it is now clear that a state policy solution will not be enacted before 1 June, the last date at which it could reverse plans to retire the plant.

Bryan Hanson, Exelon senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, 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."

Kathleen Barrón, Exelon senior vice president, government and regulatory affairs and public policy, said support for to reduce carbon emissions and maintain the environmental and economic benefits of nuclear remained strong in the plant's locality and throughout Pennsylvania, but the company could not see a path forward for policy changes before the 1 June fuel purchasing deadline for the plant. "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," she said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who recently joined the US Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said he was "disappointed" at the "unfortunate" news. "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," he said.

"Regrettably, time has run out for Pennsylvania to save Three Mile Island Unit 1, one of the state's largest sources of clean energy," Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Maria Korsnick said. "Despite attempts by the industry, state and local stakeholders, the trades and residents to save the station, Three Mile Island Unit 1 will prematurely retire as a result of a flawed and distorted energy market that fails to value the attributes of nuclear power. She called for lawmakers both in state capitals and Washington to push for market solutions and polices that value all clean energy sources, "or face the economic and environmental consequences for generations to come".

Martin Williams, co-chair of the Nuclear Powers Pennsylvania statewide coalition, said the organisation was "disappointed and frustrated" that a policy solution had not been reached in time to save TMI. "While Exelon has promised to provide jobs at other company locations for the plant's employees, the thousands of members of the trades that support the plant during refueling and maintenance outages won't be so lucky. Our members were looking forward to the work this fall's TMI outage would provide. Instead, we'll just be looking for work," he said.

Unit 1 of the Three Mile Island plant - which is built on an island in the Susquehanna River - began commercial operation in September 1974 and is currently licensed to operate until 2034. Exelon Generation in April filed a Post Shutdown Decommissioning Activities Report, a detailed plan for decommissioning the plant, with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. TMI 2 - owned by First Energy - was damaged during an accident in 1979 and never reopened.

TMI is one of five nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania - the others are Beaver Valley, Limerick, Peach Bottom and Susquehanna - which together produce nearly 40% of the state's total electricity generation and just over 93% of its zero-emissions energy. FirstEnergy has also announced plans to prematurely retire the two-unit Beaver Valley plant in 2021.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News