EDITORIAL: Let market forces dictate TMI future

York Dispatch
  • Exelon Corp. has announced plans to shutter TMI in 2019 absent state subsidies.
  • It was that partial meltdown that dashed the national appetite for nuclear as a viable alternative to traditional energy sources.

It appears market forces are about to do what even the nation’s worst nuclear accident couldn’t: permanently close the Three Mile Island nuclear plant.

A Monday, May 22, 2017, file photo shows cooling towers at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Exelon Corp., the owner of Three Mile Island, site of the United States' worst commercial nuclear power accident, said Monday, May 29, 2017, it will shut down the plant in 2019 unless it receives a financial rescue from Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Exelon Corp, owner of the nuclear facility located some 10 miles south of Harrisburg, has announced plans to shutter the plant in 2019 absent state subsidies.

That’s exactly what state subsidies should be in this case: absent. With natural gas and renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar providing less expensive alternatives, and state leaders already wrestling with a budget deficit estimated in the neighborhood of $3 billion, there is little argument to be made for propping up an energy source that is no longer competitive.

Still, Exelon officials are making that argument, urging the state to “take a leadership role by implementing a policy solution.” Specifically, the company wants the state to either amend its Alternative Energy Credit Program or establish a zero emissions credit program.

They amount to the same thing: a taxpayer-financed subsidy.

Zero emissions credits, by the way, have been implemented in states such as Illinois and New York under the premise that, since nuclear plants do not emit greenhouse gases during production, they are a “clean energy” source.

Three Mile Island to close in 2019 without policy reform

That’s a fanciful classification, however, considering there is still no long-term solution for storage of nuclear waste, which in most cases cannot be disposed of. Indeed, just this month, federal officials filed for a 20-year extension to continue storing in Idaho debris from 1979’s partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island.

It was that partial meltdown, recall, that dashed the national appetite for nuclear as a viable alternative to traditional energy sources. TMI and the industry recovered somewhat, but the construction of new facilities plummeted and, 40 years later, nuclear energy is an economic victim of high production costs and cheaper alternatives. TMI, for example, hasn’t turned a profit for the past five years.

All of which isn’t to say there is no role for the state.

Lost along with the production of nuclear energy at the Londonberry Township station will be some 675 jobs. Exelon has said it will look for transfer opportunities for some but has thus far been noncommittal.

State lawmakers, then, must turn their attention to assisting these employees in transitioning into the workforce and, ultimately, to new jobs. Time — the plant’s closure has been penciled in for September 2019 — and the nation’s declining unemployment rate are on their side.

While few would have predicted, during those dark post-partial-meltdown days of 1979, a 40-year future for Three Mile Island, the prospects for moving forward profitably are, in many ways, worse today.

Propping up Three Mile Island would delay the inevitable. But given the ascendance of wind and solar power and the high cost of nuclear-power production, the inevitable will come. Let it do so without the state wasting untold tax dollars in the process.