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Three Mile Island enters new phase of cleanup

  • Rachel McDevitt
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, which closed Sept. 20, 2019.

Brett Sholtis / WITF

Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, which closed Sept. 20, 2019.

The site of the country’s most serious accident at a commercial nuclear power plant is entering a new phase of cleanup.

TMI-2 Solutions has finished the planning phase for decommissioning Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 reactor, which partially melted down in 1979.

At a recent meeting of the company’s Community Advisory Panel, project managers said 99% of the spent nuclear fuel was cleaned up after the accident. The site has been in a state of monitored storage for the last 30 years.

Now the company is moving into an active cleanup period known as DECON. This next phase will last until 2029.

DECON involves removing contaminated materials and sending them to a commercially operated disposal site. Project Director David Del Vecchio said they plan to construct a new building to handle materials before shipping.

Leftover damaged core debris will be stored onsite until it can be transferred to the Department of Energy.

Del Vecchio said they used a robot dog called Spot to collect information inside the reactor building to guide future cleanup.

“We’ll use other remotely-operated equipment to do a lot of the decommissioning activities because the radiological rates are so high within the building,” Del Vecchio said.

Representatives from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection said TMI-2 Solutions has been receptive to suggestions for improvement at the site. They’ve found no violations during regular inspections.

Steve Letavic, head of the Community Advisory Panel and Londonderry Township Manager, said that cooperation is “welcoming and affirming.”

TMI-2 Solutions plans to finish all demolition and cleanup by 2052, according to its latest report to the NRC. The company originally planned to be done by 2037, but said current market conditions are creating a delay.

The company, a subsidiary of Utah-based EnergySolutions, bought the site in 2020 with the intent of cleaning it up for less money than is available in a dedicated fund. The remaining money would be profit.

TMI’s Unit 1 reactor shut down in 2019 because operators said it could not compete with cheaper energy sources. TMI-1 is owned by Constellation, a subsidiary of Exelon.

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