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Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant Shuts Down After 40 Years

By: James Conca |

Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station shut down today at noon after more than 40 years of providing low-carbon constant power to the region.

TMI Unit 1 began commercial operation on September 1, 1974 and was licensed to keep operating until 2034. The nuclear power plant has about 635 employees and contributes over a million dollars to the Londonderry Township in local real estate taxes.

Exelon announced in 2017 that it would shut down Three Mile Island Unit 1 unless the state stepped in with a financial rescue of about a penny a kWh, less than half of what renewables get in subsidies even though renewables generate a fraction of the low-carbon electricity to the region that TMI does.

TMI’s Unit 2 has not operated since the 1979 accident that damaged the reactor core. No one was hurt and there were no effects on human health or the environment from that accident, although the accident achieved mythological status as a dreadful event.

In fact, nuclear turns out to be the safest form of energy there is. Period.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over the last 2 years the 819 MW nuclear power plant at TMI generated over 14 billion kWhs.

In contrast, solar power in Pennsylvania generated less than 0.2 billion kWhs over this time period and wind generated a little more than 0.7 billion kWhs over this time.

Over its life, TMI Unit 1 generated over 240 billion kWhs.

Since Exelon purchased TMI Unit 1 in 2000, the plant has logged over 6 million safe worker hours, operated at over 90% capacity, and offset more than 95 million metric tons of carbon, equivalent to taking 20 million cars off the road.

In 2018, Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation in electricity generation from nuclear power, which supplied 39% of the state’s net generation from their nine nuclear reactors, all operating at over 90% capacity with perfect safety records.

Closing TMI puts Pennsylvania on the wrong path for the environment from what most of the citizens of the state say they want. 67% of Pennsylvanians say climate change is causing problems right now and 68% want the state to do more to address it.

Unfortunately, the generation from TMI will be replaced by natural gas, not renewables, as happens with every nuclear closing, and will increase the state’s carbon emissions accordingly.

But Pennsylvania has lots and lots of fossil fuel. In 2018, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production reached 6.2 trillion cubic feet, making the state the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer after Texas.

Pennsylvania was also the third-largest coal-producing state in the nation in 2017, and it was the second-largest coal exporter to foreign markets.

About half of Pennsylvania households use natural gas as their primary home heating fuel, and its 49 underground gas storage sites – the most for any state – are key for helping to meet heating demand in the winter.

From 2010 to 2018, Pennsylvania’s share of electricity generated from natural gas more than doubled to 36%, while the share from coal fell by more than half to 21%.

So as we go into the future, Pennsylvania appears dedicated to increasing their carbon emissions, just to save a penny a kWh.