How many times are we going to bailout Three Mile Island? | Opinion

Two of Pennsylvania's five nuclear power plants could close by 2021 if lawmakers don't update the state's alternative energy standards. (Creative Commons photo)

By Eric Epstein

It wasn’t that long ago when Pennsylvania legislators proclaimed that the market was best suited to determine what energy technologies should move Pennsylvania forward.

And it wasn’t that long ago that nuclear power generators, after receiving $9 billion from ratepayers, embraced the marketplace and deregulation.

Now two nuclear corporations, Illinois-based Exelon Energy and Ohio-based First Energy no longer believe in the Pennsylvania marketplace. These corporations want to charge consumers a nuclear tax, and ship the profits to Illinois and Ohio. Not the good neighbor policy most of us had in mind.

Remember Three Mile Island?

Three Mile Island Unit 1, the current bailout candidate, became operational in 1974. Like most nuclear plants, it  was behind schedule and over budget. Unit-2 came on line in 1978, and was also behind schedule and over budget. Hostage ratepayers paid $1.1 billion in 1970s dollars to build Three Mile Island.

Then came the meltdown and the bailouts.

Bailout,#1: After 90 days of operation, TMI-2 melted down. Ratepayers and taxpayers came to the rescue. Under a plan put forth by former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, TMI-2 received $987 million to defuel the melted core. We protected TMI from bankruptcy. But Unit-2 remains a high-level radioactive waste site.

How did the owners show their  gratitude? TMI-2 pays no taxes, reduced their insurance coverage, and decreased their cleanup staff from 1,500 in 1988 to the current level of zero staff. The defueling of TMI-2 actually employed three times the number of employees that Exelon has currently has on site.

Bailout #2: In 1995 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision, and allowed GPU to charge rate payers for the cleanup of the TMI-2 accident. Yes, we got the cleanup bill, and receive no tax revenue for a plant that operated for 120 days.

In case you had forgotten, the nuclear industry failed to establish cleanup funds for an accident they promised would not happen. The current cost to decommission TMI-2 – which will be totally underwritten by ratepayers – was determined by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be $1.27 billion in 2018.

Bailout,#3: In 1996 the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the Electricity Customer Choice and Competition Act. The law restructured the electric industry, separating the generation of electricity from its distribution and transmission.  Pennsylvanians were free to choose the source of their electricity, but ownership and operation of the utility wires remained with regulated monopolies.

There was one huge problem – utilities were saddled with nuclear power plants that were burdened with enormous debt due to cost overruns. The ratepayers bailed the nuclear industry out again.

TMI-1 was part of the $9 billion deregulation bailout that took consumers a decade to pay off. Keep in mind, these payments were meant to help nuclear power generators transition to competitive markets.

Three Mile Island is the most uneconomical reactor in the state. It’s also an old and small reactor that has operated beyond its 40-year license, and has cut its workforce from 802 to 525 since 1999.

However, Pennsylvania is home to five nuclear plants, and four sites remain profitable.Last year’s nuclear profits included: Beaver Valley ($165 million), Limerick ($193 million), Peach Bottom ($150 million), and Susquehanna ($171 million.)

Why would we bail out an industry that  made a combined profit last year of $679 million?

Bailout,#4?:  If consumers already paid to build Pennsylvania’s nuclear plants, and then paid off the debt on the nuclear plants, why does Three Mile Island need yet another bailout?

If the bailout in New Jersey cost $300 million a year, how much is the bailout going to cost Pennsylvania, which has three times the amount of nuclear capacity?

Wasn’t this the same industry who told us nuclear energy would be  “too cheap to meter?”

Eric Epstein is the chairman of Three Mile Island Alert Inc., a safe-energy organization based in Harrisburg, Pa., and founded in 1977. TMIA monitors Peach Bottom, Susquehanna and Three Mile Island nuclear generating stations. Find them online at tmia.com. He is also an elected Democratic member the Board of Education in Lower Paxton Township, Pa. 

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