Demolition of Three Mile Island cooling towers postponed

11 August 2021

TMI-2 Solutions, is a subsidiary of EnergySolutions, which is responsible for decommissioning the unit 2 reactor at the Three Mile Island NPP is delaying demolition of the reactor’s two cooling towers, the project director Frank Helin told the TMI-2 Community Advisory Panel on 4 August. The towers will come down in 2022 instead of this autumn. TMI-2 Solutions acquired the reactor’s licence from FirstEnergy in December.

The reactor has been closed since 1979, when it partially melted down during the most serious accident at a commercial nuclear plant in US history. Helin that TMI-2 Solutions plans to continue assessing the level of radioactivity in the reactor building, including using robots to take samples of concrete walls in the building’s basement. The company plans to start removing what remains of TMI-2’s damaged core by mid-2022. It expects to complete the entire clean-up process by 2037.

EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said the delay does not affect the rest of the process. “During the planning process of TMI-2 decommissioning we determined there would be less impact to other decommissioning activities taking place on the island later this year,” he said in a statement reported by StateImpact Pennsylvania on 6 August. That includes the transfer of used fuel from TMI-1, the plant’s other reactor, from underwater storage to dry containers. TMI-1, owned by Exelon, closed permanently in 2019. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the cooling tower demolition does not present a safety risk.

Eric Epstein, chair of the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, said he is not concerned about the cooling towers, but believes the reactor building may have more radioactive material than the company is prepared to deal with. “Our concern is making sure that the plant is finally cleaned up 42 years later,” he said. “We don’t believe the company that owns TMI-2 has the technology, the expertise, or the resources to clean the plant up.”

On its website, TMI-2 Solutions says it anticipates the project will cost $1.06 billion. It says the trust fund dedicated to the reactor’s decommissioning contains about $877 million, but that fund growth over time will provide enough to cover the costs. A 2020 report from GPU Nuclear, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy, stated that the fund contained about $899 million, and that a 2018 site assessment had estimated the clean-up cost at $1.35 billion.

In a 2020 petition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission opposing the licence transfer from FirstEnergy to TMI-2 Solutions, TMI Alert contended that the company failed to adequately survey the site for contamination and that the trust fund will not grow fast enough to cover the expanded price tag. NRC denied TMI Alert’s request for a hearing. The DEP had also expressed concern about the company’s ability to pay for the project, but withdrew its objection in August 2020.

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