The power plant associated with America's all-time worst commercial nuclear accident is closing. After 45 years, Three Mile Island Generating Station Unit 1 in southern Pennsylvania will shut down on September 30.
Exelon, the Chicago-based company that owns Three Mile Island (TMI), had been petitioning Pennsylvania's legislature for subsidies to keep the money-losing plant open. The company's argument, made along the lines of climate change, was met with resistance of natural gas companies operating in the state as well as others, including the powerful senior-advocacy group AARP.
“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,” Bryan Hanson, Exelon's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, said in a .
“Although we see strong support in Harrisburg and throughout Pennsylvania to reduce carbon emissions and maintain the environmental and economic benefits provided by nuclear energy, we don’t see a path forward for policy changes before the June 1 fuel purchasing deadline for TMI,” said Kathleen Barrón, Exelon's senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs and public policy, in the statement.
“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," Barrón continued. "We will continue to work with the legislature and all stakeholders to enact policies that will secure a clean energy future for all Pennsylvanians.”
Three Mile Island is most famous in the public eye for the events of March 28, 1979, when Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor partially melted down. At around 4 a.m., Unit 2's main feedwater pumps stopped sending water to the steam generators, which was used to cool the reactor's core.
Through what the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission a "combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems and worker errors," the feedwater pumps led to a partial meltdown.
Luckily, only a small amount of radiation was released, with the American Nuclear Society the amount of radiation received in the event was "about equal to a chest X-ray." President Jimmy Carter, a nuclear engineer during his Navy days, toured the reactor after the incident. TMI-2 closed shortly thereafter.
In the present day, the almost 700 workers at the plant will have to make serious decisions about their future. Exelon says it will offer positions elsewhere for those willing to relocate, but that won't be everyone.
“I think it’s a sad moment for all,” said Richard Drey, the business manager for a local chapter of an electric workers’ union, which represents nearly 200 people who work at TMI, . “We thought there was still hope in keeping the place open. It’s going to have a devastating effect on some of the families.”
Even the plant's critics are mourning the loss of jobs. "It's never a good time when people lose their jobs," Eric Epstein, chairman of , .
Still, after the closing of TMI, the U.S. will likely be the largest producer of nuclear power in the world. The World Nuclear Association that America has 98 nuclear plants, which account for over 30 percent of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity.
Speaking to the uniqueness of nuclear power, the plant will not be immediately disassembled. Rather, it will be given several decades to properly cool down. Exelon estimates that the Three Mile Island reactor will actually begin to be torn down in 2074.