Long haul to scrap Three Mile Island nuclear reactor

It will take decades to fully dismantle the Three Mile Island unit 1 nuclear reactor (TMI-1) after its planned shutdown in September 2019, its owner and operator Exelon Generation said last night.

The Chicago-headquartered energy company has filed a federally required post-shutdown decommissioning activities report, detailing plans for TMI-1 after it ceases operation later this year.

The company has been operating the now aging and money-losing nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania for about two decades, and a cooling system malfunction in 1979 caused a partial meltdown of the other reactor TMI-2, which has been left dormant ever since. The TMI-2 reactor, owned by another company, is estimated to be formally closed in 2036.

In a filing with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Exelon Generation outlined a plan to dismantle large components of the TMI-1 nuclear facility, including the station’s cooling towers, beginning in 2074.

This option “will provide a safer environment for our decommissioning workforce by allowing additional time for normal radioactive decay,” which will result in less waste and lower radiation exposure, said Exelon Generation in a statement.

“Even while we continue to safely operate Three Mile Island at industry-leading levels, we have a responsibility to prepare the plant, along with our community and our employees, for decommissioning,” TMI-1 site Vice President Edward Callan was quoted as saying.

The TMI-2 reactor partially melted down on March 28, 1979, which was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.

Although its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public, the accident had far-reaching effects on public opinion about nuclear energy, particularly in the United States.