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Three Mile Island, like much of nuclear industry, is on the brink via Pennlive

Nuclear power, which generates more than a third of Pennsylvania’s electricity, could soon disappear from the state amid a glut of cheap natural gas from the Marcellus Shale play.

And the first of state’s five plants to fall could be Three Mile Island, which could close as soon as 2019.

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For two years in a row, TMI failed to clear PJM’s capacity auction, meaning that it was not able to sell guaranteed power in 2019 and 2020. There are other ways for TMI to sell its electricity but the auction failure meant it was blocked from guaranteed capacity payments that are highly sought after by suppliers. Dominguez said the facility has lost tens of millions of dollars per year for seven years.

And nuclear power was dealt another blow by President Donald Trump’s reversal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which incentivized zero-carbon energy sources.

Dominguez said the results of this year’s capacity auction in May will weigh heavily on Exelon’s decision about whether to continue operating TMI. It expects to make a decision by Sept. 1, the federal deadline for energy suppliers to withdraw from the next year’s auction.

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In Illinois, Exelon announced the closure of two of its nuclear power plants but reversed the decision when the governor signed off on a $235 million subsidy rewarding Exelon’s carbon-free nuclear reactors there. Competitors have since filed lawsuits to block the measure.

Exelon isn’t the only nuclear energy company to consider closing plants in Pennsylvania. FirstEnergy Corp. announced that it would close or sell the Beaver Valley nuclear power station near Pittsburgh within the next year. PSEG, which owns half of Peach Bottom station in York County alongside Exelon, also said it wouldn’t operate nuclear plants that aren’t profitable. It has pressed New Jersey for similar subsidies to continue operating its nuclear plants there.

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“Here’s what the U.S. government must do to bring about a gradual phase-out of almost all U.S. nuclear power plants: absolutely nothing,” former Nuclear Regualtory Commission member Peter Bradford wrote in 2013. He cited the “abundance of natural gas, lower energy demand induced by the 2008 recession, increased energy-efficiency measures, nuclear’s rising cost estimates and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station” in Japan.

From the 1970s, nuclear energy was seen as a panacea for the country’s energy woes. It was billed as a relatively clean way to generate electricity without relying on foreign imports of fossil fuels. Even with the growth of other renewable energy sources like wind and solar, nuclear has remained a major electricity generator.

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Retiring the plant earlier could mean that TMI’s decommission trust fund hadn’t fully appreciated. According to Exelon’s SEC filing, that could require the company to put up a $60 million guarantee. Another $145 million may have to be paid to manage spent fuel and restore the site if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn’t allow the company to tap into the fund for those costs.

There is, of course, the question of the radioactive materials.

Although the Trump administration may seek to reopen the issue, TMI would not currently have any place to permanently discard its materials. Under federal regulations, the plant has 60 years to restore the site after its closure.

“For every plant in the nation, it’s a long tail and it’s designed to be,” Dominguez said. “Hopefully, a permanent storage site for waste is resolved within the 60-year period. As of right now, there is nothing but on-site storage.”

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