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TMI another step toward shutdown, as Exelon notifies Nuclear Regulatory Commission

By Jason Maddux jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com
Posted 6/23/17

Exelon Generation Co. officially notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week of its intent to shut down Three Mile Island Nuclear Station in September 2019.

J. Bradley Fewell, senior …

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TMI another step toward shutdown, as Exelon notifies Nuclear Regulatory Commission


Exelon Generation Co. officially notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week of its intent to shut down Three Mile Island Nuclear Station in September 2019.

TMI spokesman Dave Marcheskie said it is part of the decommissioning process for the plant. The NRC had to be officially notified within 30 days of the announcement.

J. Bradley Fewell, senior vice president for regulatory affairs and general counsel, Exelon Generation, signed the letter sent to the NRC, which was dated June 20. Exelon is based in Warrenville, Illinois, in Chicago’s western suburbs.

The letter is part of the official process to shut down the plant “due to severe economic challenges,” it states. A nuclear plant cannot be reopened once permanently shut down.

However, the letter is not absolutely binding, either. Marcheskie said the letter can be reversed up to the point where the plant doesn’t have fuel. The TMI shutdown scheduled for 2019 coincides with the refueling, which happens every two years. Two-thirds of the 177 uranium rods are replaced.

That fuel usually is purchased 18 months out from the refueling date. However, Marcheskie said it likely could be done on a shorter time frame if need be.

“The reversal becomes more remote as we carry out the steps of the decommission process,” he said.

Marcheskie said that internally at the plant, a decommission transition organization is being established with 18 people from different departments. The employees have not yet been selected.

“They’re kind of in charge of internally shutting down the plant, making the proper steps between now and 2019 and even beyond 2019,” he said.

Letter to electricity company

A separate letter was sent to regional transmission organization PJM Interconnection in late May. PJM operates a competitive wholesale electricity market and manages the high-voltage electricity grid for more than 65 million people in all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

TMI has failed to clear the past three auctions held by PJM, which basically means that TMI is not able to produce electricity at the price that the market is willing to pay.

“Three Mile Island Unit 1 is unprofitable and has lost more than $300 million over the past five years despite being one of Exelon’s best-performing plants,” states the letter to PJM, signed by Bryan C. Hanson, senior vice president of Exelon Generation, and president and chief nuclear officer of Exelon Nuclear.

Hanson states the argument again that Exelon officials started making even before the shutdown was announced: that nuclear energy in Pennsylvania is not part of the state’s alternative energy portfolio standard, which puts it at a disadvantage with both carbon-based and other “green” energy sources.

“Though Three Mile Island Unit 1 produces more clean energy than all of those sources combined, it is not eligible for support under that program. While we are committed to working with all stakeholders to secure Pennsylvania’s energy future, unfortunately, we cannot ignore the losses at the facility and must take this action now,” the letter states.

Exelon wants legislators to amend existing law or pass a new law that would put “a cost” on carbon emissions and “level the playing field” so nuclear plants can compete on the same basis as other clean power generators, Lacey Dean, a spokeswoman for Exelon, previously told the Press & Journal.

Marcheskie said he knows of no legislative movement since the announcement to close down was made May 30. He said legislators likely are focused on finalizing the state budget.

The letter also states that “the energy market in PJM has not adapted to the “evolution of the fleet, which has caused the devaluation of resources like Three Mile Island Unit 1.”

“The facility is highly dependent on energy market prices that are at all-time low levels as a result of a number of factors, including market rules that do not value the clean, resilient electricity provided by nuclear energy. As PJM’s CEO has acknowledged, policymakers have ‘tried to politely ignore these things, but they … are no longer ignorable.’”

Besides TMI’s 675 permanent workers, the plant contracts with another 1,500 local union employees during the refueling outages that take place over a three to four-week period every other year.

TMI has an annual payroll of $60 million. In addition to the direct economic contribution of these workers to the region through their salaries and earned income taxes paid, TMI provides a combined $1 million a year in property taxes paid to local governments, school districts, and Dauphin County.

The 675 employees of TMI also contribute a combined $300,000 in donations to nonprofit organizations, many of them located in Middletown or in the surrounding area. The Londonderry Fire Department alone receives $40,000 a year from TMI, Marcheskie previously told the Press & Journal.