The owners of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant say they will close the 43-year-old facility at the end of September 2019 if TMI doesn’t receive a state or federal government bailout. TMI has lost $800 million over the last five years. The Dauphin County plant’s 675 employees were notified of the action Tuesday. Some 202 employees live in Lancaster County, more than any other county. Only eight years ago, TMI had successfully petitioned the federal government to extend its operating license so the plant could continue running through 2034.
It’s easy to get caught up in the debate over the viability of the nuclear industry and forget that the livelihoods of hundreds of individuals and families are at stake if TMI closes.
As LNP reported last week, the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus, formed by state Sen. Ryan Aument, of Landisville, said the closing of TMI “will mean a significant loss of family-sustaining jobs, high-capacity baseload clean energy and the many direct and indirect economic benefits that surround the production of electricity from a nuclear power plant.”
We’d like the focus to remain on “family-sustaining jobs.”
In addition to the full-time employees, TMI draws about 1,500 additional workers to the area for four to six weeks every two years for refueling. These people earn paychecks and spend money in local communities.
Shortly after the closure was announced, LNP staff writer Tom Knapp interviewed business owners near TMI.
“We would take a significant financial hit,” Justin Nicholson, owner of the River House Bar and Grill in nearby Middletown, told LNP on Tuesday. “We benefit, obviously, because they’re our neighbor.”
As for the employees themselves, Stephen Mohr, chairman of the Conoy Township supervisors, told Knapp the announcement is “terrible news” for the community.
“It’s not like you have a business closing down where someone else is going to move in,” he said. “Once it’s closed, it’s closed. ... We have residents who’ve worked at TMI from day one, and now the second generation is there.”
But the third generation won’t be, short of a government bailout or some combination of financial magic tricks that can keep the plant operating without hemorrhaging money.
If the plant does, in fact, close, what happens to the workers?
A TMI spokesman said last week that the plant’s owner, Exelon, would attempt to use idled workers elsewhere within the company. But there aren’t any guarantees those employees will find work at nearby plants Peach Bottom or Limerick. Relocation is a distinct possibility. That means families — generations in some cases — uprooting and leaving the community. No matter what you think about nuclear power, that’s not good.
“The impact goes deeper than just shutting a plant down,” Dave Marcheskie Jr., senior communications manager for TMI, told LNP. Plant employees, he said, are “highly involved in their communities,” donating more than $300,000 annually to the fire department, library and other agencies.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the total economic impact to the region should TMI close. There will be much debate about what it will do to fuel prices. But there will be an impact, and it will be personal.
“I think it’s a shame,” Bainbridge Inn owner Vanessa Peters told LNP. “It seems all the good-paying jobs are going away.”
Exelon sounds as if it will not go down without a fight. In an interview with LNP, David Fein, Exelon vice president of government affairs, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that state or federal intervention will keep TMI and Pennsylvania’s other nuclear power plants running.
“We are going to continue to explore those options,” Fein said. “It’s early in the process in talking about legislative or policy solutions in Pennsylvania.”
State Rep. David Hickernell, a Republican from West Donegal Township whose district includes TMI and who is part of the Nuclear Energy Caucus, told LNP, “No other form of electrical generation can produce more emission-free power, more reliably and with a smaller footprint than nuclear power” while expressing concern for TMI employees.
“I remain hopeful that the situation could change and the decision can be reversed,” he wrote in a statement to LNP.
Hoping the decision will be reversed and generating enough support, i.e., money, to keep TMI afloat are two vastly different things.
State officials, from the governor on down, are noncommittal about any measures resembling a bailout of the nuclear industry.
According to a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, the governor “looks forward to engaging with the General Assembly about what direction Pennsylvania will go in regards to its energy sector, including the future of nuclear power.” Wolf is also “concerned about potential layoffs and empathizes with these employees.”
The reaction to TMI’s planned closure has ranged from “Good riddance” to “We have to save the plant.”
Meanwhile, waiting and wondering are 675 full-time employees, 1,500 seasonal, refueling workers, and countless others whose livelihoods will be indirectly and directly affected if TMI shuts down.
As the debate about what to do moves forward, we hope that TMI’s owners, state lawmakers, the federal government, and anyone else involved considers the futures of TMI’s workers. Whatever happens, they will feel it the most.