Three Mile Island plant, site of worst nuclear accident in US history, to close in 2019

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 2:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 2:01am

The Three Mile Island Generating Station in Pennsylvania, the site of the worst nuclear accident in the United States four decades ago, announced on Tuesday that it would close in 2019 pending major policy reforms.

Exelon Corporation, which operates the plant south of Harrisburg, said it plans to close the station around September 2019. President and CEO Chris Crane called it “a difficult day” for the plant’s 675 employees, their families and customers.

Staff are expected to start transitioning out within six months of the final shutdown, the Chicago-based corporation said.

Exelon said it would make shutdown notifications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission within 30 days, terminate capital investment projects required for long-term operation and cancel 2019 fuel purchases and outage planning.

Still, the corporation held the door open to preserving the plant, saying reforms to Pennsylvania state energy policy to support nuclear power could provide “one of many potential solutions.”

Exelon said it is “committed” to finding the best solution, saying nuclear energy contributes US$2 billion a year to Pennsylvania’s economy and supports 16,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state.

But a recent slide in energy prices, with natural gas sinking 64 per cent over a decade, has left nuclear energy at a disadvantage. It remains expensive and offers few opportunities to cut overhead costs.

Nuclear power represents only nine per cent of energy used in the United States -- although it makes up 19 per cent of electricity generation -- far behind natural gas at 32 per cent, petroleum at 28 per cent and coal at 21 per cent.

It also conjures memories of the plant’s partial reactor meltdown in March 1979, rated five on the International Nuclear Event Scale from 0 to 7.

The accident led to “very small” releases of radioactivity, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Although no one died and no immediate injuries were linked to the incident, no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since then.