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Where is the uproar over TMI’s potential closure?: Editorial

Posted 10/4/17

There is a silence surrounding the potential closure of the Three Mile Island Generating Station that is hard for us to fathom.

No one seems to be talking about it. 

We know, of course …

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Where is the uproar over TMI’s potential closure?: Editorial


There is a silence surrounding the potential closure of the Three Mile Island Generating Station that is hard for us to fathom.

No one seems to be talking about it. 

We know, of course that people are discussing it, especially employees who stand to lose their jobs.

We mean the collective “no one.” There is no buzz about it here in Middletown. It’s not a topic that is on everyone’s lips. There are no rallies in the street, a deluge of letters to the editor, calls to the paper, or discussions brought up to Press & Journal staffers about how devastating the closure would be. There has been almost no discussion of it by the borough council. There has been little discussion by the boards in Londonderry and Lower Swatara townships, outside of both passing a boilerplate resolution “supporting nuclear energy in Pennsylvania.” In-depth discussions at their meetings have been almost non-existent.

Why is that? 

People either don’t know (which we find hard to believe); don’t care (they aren’t employed there, and neither is anyone they know); don’t think it will actually happen (trust us, this is not a bluff by its owner, Exelon Corp.); don’t think it will affect them (it’s possible) or think that Sept. 30, 2019, is too far off to start making a fuss right now.

Two years is not a long way off. If you are concerned about the potential closure, the time to speak up is now, not later. Each day that passes without action by the state government makes it less likely that the actions that will satisfy Exelon get done.

But we are surprised we have to even remind people of what could lie ahead.

We will put forth a potential reason for the lack of a widespread uproar: TMI is hurt by being a regional employer. Because its employees are spread through multiple counties, there is not a single voice from a single county or borough that can rise above all the rest and say: This closure would devastate us. 

We were surprised at the employment figures provided to us by TMI this year. Only 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. That means more than 100 other employees are scattered around other counties such as Perry and Franklin.

Census figures show the 17057 ZIP code has an estimated population of about 22,000. With 78 of those employees (and their immediate family members, of course) among those 22,000, the overall impact seems minimal.

Is that why we don’t have protests in the street?

We aren’t suggesting that Londonderry Township could easily absorb the loss. According to TMI figures, employee giving to the Londonderry Township Fire Department alone over the last two years totals more than $80,000. That doesn’t include the tax dollars that go to Londonderry Township, which is home to Three Mile Island. According to Londonderry Township Vice Chairman Mel Hershey, TMI provides $709,000 in taxes yearly to the township — $600,000 in earned income tax, $37,000 in property taxes, and $72,000 in local taxes. If TMI closes, Londonderry residents could be looking at a 2.5- to 3-mill increase. One mill is equivalent to $1 in taxes per $1,000 of taxable value of property. A 3-mill increase would be $300 more per year on a $100,000 home.

But the widespread effects over multiple counties appear to soften the blow in the eyes of many. 

TMI is in its biennial shutdown for refueling, which brings in about 1,200 workers of various backgrounds to the plant.

Let’s look at the figures bandied about by the Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania coalition (a very broad name for a group formed in June that has a sole purpose of keeping TMI and other nuclear plants open). At a press conference Tuesday at the Tattered Flag in Middletown, it was said that refueling leads to an economic boost to the region because those 1,200 workers support hotels, restaurants, and other businesses during refueling, which typically lasts about three weeks.

“To the region” are the key words here. How many of those workers are actually staying in Middletown, Londonderry Township and Lower Swatara Township? The answer is very, very few, simply because the supply of hotels in those municipalities is extremely limited. So are the number of places to eat. Those 1,200 people are staying in Lancaster. They are staying in Harrisburg. They are staying in Hershey. They are not staying in Middletown. They are not staying in Londonderry Township. And very few are staying in Lower Swatara Township. 

Let’s keep in mind what could prevent TMI from closing, according to Exelon: policy reforms at the state level to “level the playing field.” Nuclear power is not part of Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard. The portfolio requires that 18 percent of the electricity from Pennsylvania’s distribution companies and electric generation suppliers come from alternative energy resources by 2021. The company says that while 16 clean power sources including solar, wind and hydro-energy are supported by this state energy policy, nuclear is not. As we have said in an editorial before, it should be.

So you might think that this not-so-veiled threat by Exelon would prompt swift discussions at the state level.


It was easy for area legislators to send out press releases decrying the possible closure in late May and early June. But what are they actually going to do if they want to try to keep the plant open? 

At the Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania coalition press conference Tuesday, Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries — who is co-chairman of the group — pointed out that “very little” has been done at the state level on the TMI issue, due in his opinion to Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers’ pre-occupation with the state budget.

Tuesday’s press conference was open to the public: “We’re at the Tattered Flag brewery in Middletown to discuss the impact of the refueling outage on the local economy around TMI. We hope you’ll join us!” said the coalition’s Facebook page. Yet almost every single person of the 25 to 30 who were there were media. 

Coalition members include Londonderry Township manager Steve Latavic; Middletown Borough Council members Ben Kapenstein and Robert Reid; and Lower Swatara Township board members Jon Wilt, Todd Truntz and Ben Hall. None attended Tuesday’s press conference.

That goes to our next point: If we are looking to local government, there hasn’t been much action, either.

The Middletown Borough Council has barely discussed TMI since the closure was announced May 31 — once in June and a brief discussion Aug. 15 to consider a resolution opposing the closure. That resolution was to be acted on Tuesday night. Fourteen other counties, boroughs and townships have done the same.

No residents have come before the council to voice concerns about TMI.

We know that a resolution has no teeth anyway, but is it of such little concern to the governing body of the borough that it’s not even worth discussing?

We stated in a previous editorial that we don’t think the numbers add up to keep TMI open, because Exelon is making a business decision. TMI has only one unit and is at a disadvantage compared to those with two. We feel Exelon is making these demands regarding the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard to protect its other Pennsylvania nuclear plants (Limerick and Peach Bottom), but that TMI is in serious trouble.

Nonetheless, we want to see what actions can be taken to save it.

If you agree, raise your voices now. Time’s a wastin’.