TMI to NRC: We want to keep running
Plant operator applies for license renewal, but watchdogs say they will push for conditions to be met.

Lancaster New Era

Published: Jan 09, 2008 12:11 PM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - As expected, the operator of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant has announced it doesn't want to close down the world's most famous nuke plant in 2014.

Instead, AmerGen Energy Co. on Tuesday asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to allow the plant to continue to generate "a clean source of energy" until 2034.

A review of the 1,800-page application is expected to take around two years and dwell on the plant's ability to deal with deterioration of plant infrastructure from age.

AmerGen, a subsidiary of Exelon Generation, one of the nation's largest electric utilities, says keeping TMI's Unit 1 running will continue to supply jobs — 190 Lancaster County residents work there — pump money into the local economy and help reduce the nation's greenhouse gases.

"The feedback we've gotten back has been very positive," says AmerGen spokesman Ralph DeSantis of the company's two-year campaign to explain the license extension to public officials and the public.

"I think people recognize that TMI is a very clean source of electricity, a very reliable source and I think they feel comfortable that we keep the lines of communication open with them," DeSantis said this morning.

Dennis Stuckey, chairman of the Lancaster County Commissioners, said the three commissioners endorsed the continuation of TMI.

"I think that Exelon has done a good job of running the plant and it's part of an overall energy strategy. We have no objections to their applying for a license."

In contrast, former Lancaster Mayor Arthur E. Morris said Exelon has failed to earn the trust of the public and should not be allowed to operate when its license runs out six years from now.

"I don't think they've earned the public's trust to get it relicensed, personally," Morris said this morning.

Morris, who for 14 years headed a TMI citizens panel created by the government after the 1979 accident, said he supports nuclear energy as an energy strategy, but was harshly critical of Exelon's performance since it purchased TMI in 1999.

He referenced a well-publicized incident last year in which security guards hired by Exelon were videotaped napping in an off-duty room. Exelon subsequently fired its security contractor, Wackenhut Security.

"It just seems this is all about money for the owner and not enough about safety for the residents and the people that live close to the plant," Morris said.

"Given the history here, they can't afford any transgressions."

Morris says he is also troubled that there have been no plans submitted by Exelon to complete the cleanup of the damaged Unit 2 reactor.

"They don't talk about it; they just let it sit," said Morris, who thinks any relicensing should be conditioned on the final removal of Unit 2 and its lingering radioactive waste.

That's just one condition TMI's most visible critic intends to secure in a formal challenge.

Eric Epstein, a former Lancaster County resident and head of the TMI Alert citizens group, promised "a battle royale" over the license renewal.

"There are numerous legacy issues that have not been addressed," Epstein said, citing staffing cuts from 804 in 1998 to 520 today, the age of the plant, security, cutting taxes paid to Dauphin County school districts and withdrawals of water from the Susquehanna.

"In addition, we have more than 1,000 tons of radioactive waste (stored at Unit 1) with no forwarding address on the island," Epstein said.

"At the end of the day, you need to clean up your dirty laundry before you put your new load in."

Epstein said it's likely Exelon will be granted a license renewal, but he predicted a number of conditions beneficial to the public will be attached.

The NRC has approved license renewals for 48 generating stations so far without any denials. Another 38 are pending.

In announcing the renewal application, Exelon cited more than $100 million invested in upgrades to plant equipment so far and another $300 million planned in a fall 2009 refueling outage.

TMI produces enough electricity to power about 800,000 homes.

The plant and its employees donated $43,000 to United Way of Lancaster County, fire companies and other charitable institutions in 2007, DeSantis said.

The economic input from the plant in salaries, taxes and purchases of goods and services was estimated at $170 million annually statewide.

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Source: Lancaster New Era