scribbler tmi

Aerial photo shows most of Three Mile Island and its nuclear plant, with its active and inactive cooling towers.

HARRISBURG — People expressed their fears, frustrations and gratitude to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials at a public briefing for its decommissioning report on Three Mile Island on Tuesday night in Harrisburg.

NRC officials held a public meeting at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel where members of the public were allowed to speak their minds.

After a controversial attempt by some lawmakers to save the nuclear power plant failed, operator Exelon Generation announced it will permanently close the facility’s reactor No. 1 by Sept. 30.

The decommissioning process will take about 62 years, running through 2081, eventually ending 675 jobs at the Dauphin County plant. This time frame is too long for some residents, who said they want immediate cleanup on both reactors.

Here are three takeaways from the report — and what people have to say about it.

The shutdown will take a long time —but it’s mostly just a lot of sitting.

Exelon chose to defer dismantling the Three Mile Island Unit 1 reactor for about 50 years to allow time for  radiation levels to diminish and for its Decommissioning Trust Fund to grow. The operation will cost approximately $1.2 billion.

Once the reactor shuts down in late September, the used fuel will remain in its spent fuel pool until 2022. They’ll then be moved to dry cask storage containers, which are designed to safely hold the radioactive material while it decays, NRC members said.

Once the fuel is in its storage containers, the facilities will be inspected by the regulatory commission every two years, said Steve Hamman, an NRC senior health physicist, during Tuesday’s meeting.

Fuel will remain in dry storage from 2022 until about 2079. The cooling towers and other large structures won’t be dismantled until 2074.

Local residents are worried about how natural disasters or terrorism would impact the facility — and whether the NRC is actually equipped to handle it.

What if …?

Fill in the blank: floods, earthquakes, plane crash from Harrisburg International Airport, terrorist attack. Residents want to know if  the facility would be able to withstand it.

“There are so many unanswered questions,” said Patricia Longenecker, who lives 3 miles from Three Mile Island.

NRC representatives assured residents that Exelon’s facilities are designed to withstand any of these events. And if not, the NRC is requiring Exelon to provide sufficient funding to cover an accident if it occurs. The agency has overseen about 80 nuclear decommissions.

Activists from Three Mile Island Alert spent about a month preparing their public comments, including a 37-page brief provided to NRC members. More than a dozen people spoke during the public comment period, quizzing the NRC on its powers and awareness of TMI-specific issues, like its placement on an earthquake fault.

These residents also discussed their disdain for NRC holding similar meetings since the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island Unit 2.

“This community has been to this dance before, and it never ends well for us,” said Eric Epstein, chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, who provided the NRC with the group’s brief. “Same suits, different people.”

A small number of other residents said they trusted the NRC to safely oversee this decommissioning.

Residents are also worried the regulatory agency won’t hold Exelon accountable.

Some residents, including Joyce Corradi, said they’ve felt the NRC has valued corporations over the lives of people in the past.

“My biggest concern is that you as an entity consider strictly the health and well-being — not money, not the company — but us,” she told NRC representatives. “We have lived through the accident. The people you were supposed to be watching over caused that accident … . So I expect from you to do better than what you have already done.”

Epstein and others said they were concerned that the NRC itself and Exelon’s decommissioning fund is underfunded. Exelon said otherwise in a statement.

“We remain focused on operating Three Mile Island Unit 1 safely and at industry-leading levels while also working closely with community stakeholders and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to prepare the plant, our employees and the local community for decommissioning activities after shutdown,” Exelon Generation wrote in the statement provided at the meeting.

All public comments must be submitted by Oct. 9 for the NRC to consider them. Only one other public comment was submitted online as of Monday night. 

Instructions on how to submit comments can be found at bit.ly/nrccomments.