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Three Mile Island employees worry about future if nuclear plant closes

By Laura Hayes

laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/3/18

For a group of four women, the closure of Three Mile Island is personal, leaving them with concerns about retirement, moving away from family and changing their kids’ schools.

Michelle Vera, …

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Three Mile Island employees worry about future if nuclear plant closes

Posted

For a group of four women, the closure of Three Mile Island is personal, leaving them with concerns about retirement, moving away from family and changing their kids’ schools.

Michelle Vera, Tammy Hanlon, Dani Brookhart and Renae Ditty work at TMI. They were part of a group of employees who attended a rally in downtown Middletown that marked the one year countdown to TMI’s closure after Exelon Corp., which owns TMI, announced in May 2017 that the nuclear power plant would be “prematurely retired” in September 2019.

Ditty, who lives in Harrisburg, has worked at TMI as a chemistry technician for just less than three years.

“So I have the lowest seniority in my department. And though they’re going to help us find a job, I probably won’t get something in Pennsylvania. If I do, it won’t be in the department that I’m in. I’ll have to be retrained and move again,” Ditty said.

She has other reasons why she doesn’t want to move, too. She and her husband recently bought a house and are looking to start a family soon. Plus, Ditty’s grandmother lives in Middletown and her husband also has family in the area.

“Anywhere that I go, it will just be further away and harder to see my family,” Ditty said.

Figures provided by TMI last year show that 78 of the approximately 675 TMI employees live in the 17057 ZIP code that encompasses Middletown, Londonderry Township and Lower Swatara Township. More live in Lancaster County (202) than Dauphin (193). York County has 76, Cumberland County has 50, and Lebanon County, 43.

That totals about 565. More than 100 other employees are scattered throughout counties such as Perry and Franklin.

According to Dave Marcheskie, TMI senior site communications manager, many of the plant operators are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He said it takes operators two years to get licensed, and the operators are licensed specifically for that unit.

“So while Exelon may be committed to try to find everybody a job, they couldn’t go to another power plant right away and just start working. They would have to go through this NRC license and training process over again — another two-year process,” Marcheskie said. “They’re able to move, but it’s a harder transition.”

Which is what Hanlon is worried about. Hanlon has commuted to TMI to work as an instrument chemist from Seven Valleys in York County for 11 years.

“I’m not old enough to retire, and I’m not young enough to start a new career. So, it really affects me because I only have eight to 10 years left before I retire. I will have to find a job elsewhere,” Hanlon said.

It affects everything, she said, such as her retirement plan and her family.

“They probably would have to move, which is a huge expense. So it’s not a situation I really want to be in. I’d rather be here,” Hanlon said.

Vera and Brookhart are also worried about how the closure could affect their families. Vera, who lives in Elizabethtown, has worked in cybersecurity in the IT department for about nine years. Both she and her husband work at the plant, and Vera said they would have to move to another plant location for both of them to get jobs.

Brookhart, who lives in Mount Joy, has a 2-year-old daughter. She has worked at TMI for the past 4-and-a-half years as a chemist. Brookhart said she would be part of the decommission organization, but after that, she would have to move.

“Moving her — not knowing where I would be going — that puts a big stressor on me. I think my daughter is my biggest impact and reason for wanting to stay just so that she can have continuity and grow up in the way that we planned for her to grow up,” Brookhart said.

According to Marcheskie, a lot of the jobs at TMI are specialized to that specific unit.

“So you have highly skilled workers at TMI that want to stay at this unit because they are experts on how to run this plant,” Marcheskie said.