Three Mile Island, site of 1979 nuclear accident, to close in 2019

Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island power plant will close in 2019, 40 years after the worst nuclear accident in USA history, as low natural gas prices make the costs of atomic energy uncompetitive, its owner said on Tuesday.

Exelon Corp, the US power company that owns the Middletown, Pennsylvania, power plant, said it will close by September 30, 2019, unless the state adopts rules to compensate the company for benefits Exelon says nuclear power provides.

Nuclear power is not among the 16 clean power sources listed in Pennsylvania's energy portfolio, making three mile island less competitive than solar, wind and hydroelectric plants.

Exelon and other electricity producers in several states are asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support to keep costly nuclear power plants in business. The potential for higher utility bills in Pennsylvania and other states is drawing pushback from rival energy companies, manufacturers and consumer advocates. The TMI plant has not cleared the past three PJM auctions and has not been profitable in five years, it noted.

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.

Nuclear power provides 93 percent of Pennsylvania's emissions-free electricity and avoids 37 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually. And electricity consumption plateaued as the recession reduced power demand and energy efficiency improved.

Forty years ago, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Londonderry Township, Penn. was the site of a nuclear meltdown, America's worst accident at a nuclear power plant. Natural gas has displaced a significant amount of coal generation, and the gas industry is also taking aim at nuclear power.

Three Mile Island's license does not expire until 2034. While nuclear is a clean source of energy and has no carbon emissions, the catch has always been the risk and danger involved with nuclear power.

The plant, based in Middletown, Pa., and about 90 miles west of Philadelphia, has lost $300 million over the past five years because of the decline in energy prices, Chicago-based Exelon said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. PSEG of New Jersey owns all or parts of four nuclear plants, but it has said it will not operate long-term money losers. He said that would be a big loss for the Midstate if the plant closes.

It's unclear whether Exelon actually intends to close Three Mile Island, or if its announcement is designed as something of a threat to force the state of Pennsylvania to deliver an operating subsidy.

Power demand in the US has been flat for almost a decade, creating a battle for market share between different generation sources.

The accident, the worst nuclear mishap in US history, triggered a huge anti-nuclear fury and, because of an abundance of natural gas, a turn away from nuclear power, which had boomed in the 1960s.

Although its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public, it was the most serious accident in USA commercial nuclear power plant operating history, according to the U.S.

Regardless, the accident badly undermined support for nuclear power.

  • Salvatore Jensen