Monday, September 18, 2017

Three Mile Island fights once again for its nuclear survival

       Thomas P. Haaf, manager of Exelon’s Three Mile Island Unit 1

Andrew Maykuth reports for

Workers are setting the groundwork at Three Mile Island for a maintenance outage this month to replenish Unit 1’s uranium core, an elaborately choreographed event that requires 1,500 contract workers and injects millions of dollars into the local economy.

But TMI’s biennial refueling outage has a tinge of melancholy this year: It could be the last time fuel is ever loaded into Unit 1, whose neighboring twin reactor shut down in 1979 after the nation’s worst commercial nuclear accident.

Exelon Generation, the company that operates Unit 1, announced in May that it plans to prematurely shut down the power plant in 2019 unless the Pennsylvania legislature rescues the nuclear industry, which is struggling to compete in a world where newfound natural-gas resources have driven down electricity prices.

“We’ve got almost 300 people over there who are scared to death they’re going to lose their jobs,” said John Levengood, president of Electricians Local 777, which represents about 40 percent of the plant’s full-time employees. “That’s my biggest concern.”

As workers erected scaffolding around the plant for the upcoming outage, nuclear-industry lobbyists are erecting a political foundation 12 miles up the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg to secure support for the state’s five nuclear plants — a bailout, opponents say. It’s unclear when or in what form nuclear subsidies will be proposed, but it’s likely that electricity customers, not taxpayers, would be asked to pay the cost through higher rates.

The nuclear industry, by far the largest producer of zero-carbon-emission electrical power, is facing a similar struggle nationwide as plans for new reactors get scrapped and existing plants battle to compete in states with deregulated power markets. Some wonder whether natural gas, with a history of price volatility and occasional scarcity, has really entered a golden era of reliable abundance with the development of hydraulically fractured shale gas.

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