Nuclear Reactor Involved In US History’s Worst Meltdown At Risk Of Shutting Down

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The Pennsylvania power plant responsible for the largest nuclear meltdown in U.S. history faces early retirement, according to nuclear industry officials.

Exelon Corporation announced Wednesday that it would have trouble selling electricity generated by the Three Mile Island (TMI) and Quad Cities nuclear power plants in 2020. Exelon didn’t sell any of the stations’ power during advanced auction in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

Exelon’s other nuclear plants in the region were able to sell their power for the 2020-2021 planning year, but the company says TMI hasn’t been profitable for five years — the site of a partial nuclear meltdown in the 1970s.

“The failure of the TMI plant, in particular, to clear the PJM capacity auction is the latest data point that all is not well with the U.S. electricity marketplace and that nuclear energy plants are at risk for premature closure if the current market is not reformed and innovated,” David Blee, executive director of the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In March 1979, TMI’s number 2 reactor partially melted down, causing the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear operating history. The event spurred environmentalist campaigns to prevent other nuclear power plants from being built, and has tarnished the industry’s reputation ever since.

Radioactive releases from the 1979 meltdown were small and had no detectable health effect on plant workers or the public, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Nobody was killed, but disaster convinced the NRC to tighten safety standards.

However, TMI’s possible closure is not an isolated incident. About half of U.S. nuclear reactors are at risk of closing early, according to a new report by the left-leaning think tank Third Way.

In the past two years, six states have shut down nuclear plants, and “dozens” of other plants across the U.S. are facing challenging economic conditions, placing them at risk of imminent retirement. Decommissioning reactors can cost up to $1.5 billion and take up to 60 years to complete.

“Ten to fifteen nuclear plants today across the country today are at risk of premature closure, as the bottom has dropped out of the wholesale electricity markets and those markets fail to acknowledge nuclear energy’s unique value proposition of grid stability, zero emissions and fuel supply diversity,” Eric McErlain, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), told TheDCNF.

“Exelon’s announcement out of Pennsylvania highlights the urgent need for policy action to preserve the irreplaceable national assets that are nuclear plants,” McErlain said.

Nuclear reactors are expensive to build, and aren’t subsidized, like wind or solar power, for producing electricity without emitting carbon dioxide (CO2). But nuclear proponents hope that the regulatory system will change after the Energy Department releases its grid reliability study.

Nuclear power is far easier to integrate into the power grid than wind or solar energy since it generates electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

“To this end, we welcome Secretary Perry’s timely decision to undertake an expeditious review of the electricity grid to assess the impact of federal regulations and policies on baseload power,” Blee said.

“As is being shown in New York and Illinois, states can play a significant role by advancing policies to monetize nuclear energy’s clean energy and reliability attributes,” Blee said. “We are encouraged that Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are looking seriously at measures to preserve the strategic assets inherent in their nuclear energy baseload, which will have commensurate return in terms of jobs, economical electricity and 24/7 power.”

New York and Illinois both voted to bail out nuclear power plants in their states by raising power prices. Unions, business groups and some environmentalists strongly support legislation enabling the bailouts, as the reactors have environmental benefits. A coalition of free market groups against government intervention in the economy and environmental groups opposed the measure on grounds that it takes resources away from wind and solar power.

America operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants, according to the Energy Information Administration.

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