EDITORIAL: Capitalism means plants close, including TMI

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Traffic travels south on Route 441 near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Londonderry Township, Dauphin County, Friday, March 15, 2019. The plant's Unit 2 reactors have been shut down since the March 28,1979, partial meltdown. Bill Kalina photo

Exelon has finally decided to act like a business and shut down a plant it no longer sees as profitable.

The power company announced Tuesday, May 7, that since the state Legislature is in no hurry to give it more money, it will start the decommissioning process on Three Mile Island's Unit 1 reactor in September.

"We don’t see a path forward for policy changes before the June 1 fuel purchasing deadline for TMI,” said Kathleen Barrón, Exelon senior vice president, government and regulatory affairs and public policy, in a statement.

Two bills have been sitting in the Legislature for a couple of months that would add power generated in nuclear facilities into an existing credit system for renewable energy.

In other words, it would take funds that were meant for developing alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro and give it to the existing nuclear industry.

More:TMI closure was 'inevitable,' lawmakers say

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Exelon has been threatening to close TMI, holding its 675 full-time workers and 1,200 people working there during refueling for Unit 1 hostage to its demands.

The state Legislature responded the way it often responds. The bills — HB 11 in the House and SB 510 in the Senate — are sitting in committee. 

And that's where they belong. Trying to pretend that nuclear energy is an alternative, renewable power source on the same level as solar and wind requires twisting the definitions of alternative energy. 

Sure, nuclear power doesn't release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and therefore doesn't directly contribute to climate change on the same level as coal- and natural gas-powered plants do.

But it does leave behind spent fuel and radioactive equipment, and right now there is no place where that material can be sent, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

Spent fuel rods are moved to onsite cooling pools, with those pools now holding as much as five times the amount of spent fuel they were designed to hold. Dry cask storage is recommended after five years in the pool, but that leaves steel and concrete holding tanks sitting on pads.

Meanwhile, true renewable energy sources are still in the early stages of use and need funding for research and development. That funding doesn't need to go into the nuclear power industry, which is mature and closing in on retirement.

As Rep. Sue Helm, R-Dauphin/Lebanon counties, said, TMI's closure was "inevitable." 

"It is time we stop throwing good money into a situation that is never going to be profitable," Helm wrote in an email.

So yes, we're sorry to see so many people losing good-paying jobs. Yes, we're sorry that local businesses will lose the customers they saw when extra workers were brought in for refueling.

But this is how capitalism works. If a company can't make money, it closes. Big businesses have gotten too used to crying to the state and holding employees hostage in order to get taxpayers' money. 

The state Legislature, by not pushing these bills through, has done the right thing.