The political, historical, and energy landscape of Pennsylvania made nuclear subsidies a tougher sell here, compared to other states.
Three Mile Island
On March 28th, 1979 the Unit 2 reactor at the The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg partially melted down. It marked the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.
The aftermath brought about “sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations,” writes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “A combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems and worker errors led to TMI-2’s partial meltdown and very small off-site releases of radioactivity.”
The plant’s still operational Unit 1 reactor is now owned by Exelon, while the mothballed Unit 2 reactor is owned by FirstEnergy.
In May 2017, Exelon announced it would prematurely shut down the plant in September 2019—15 years before its license expires. The nuclear power industry has had a hard time competing economically amid slowing demand for electricity and a glut of cheap natural gas.
Both New York and Illinois recently agreed to give billions in subsidies to the nuclear industry by essentially broadening the definition of clean power. The states created so-called zero emission credits for their nuclear plants. There’s been a years-long lobbying push to do something similar in Pennsylvania.
In March 2019, Rep. Thomas Mehaffie (R- Dauphin County) introduced HB 11 . He wants to prevent the early closure of Three Mile Island as well as FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley plant near Pittsburgh, which is scheduled for retirement in 2021.
The bill aims to amend Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, a 2004 law requiring electric utilities to buy parts of their power from certain clean and alternative energy sources, like wind and solar. The bill faces major opposition from across the ideological spectrum.
A House panel heard a litany of arguments for and against a bill that would provide a $500 million annual subsidy to Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry.
‘I remember TMI’: An oral history of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident as told by people who lived nearby
Seven residents tell their stories of uncertainty, confusion, fear and the decision they faced: Stay home amid risk of radiation, or flee.
‘I am the witness’: Post-Fukushima, a Japanese man’s regrets mirror his country’s turn against nuclear power
Yuji Onuma was the pride of Futaba, Japan as a 12-year-old, when he won a town slogan contest by praising nuclear power. But eight years after the meltdown, Futaba is deserted and Onuma no longer believes in nuclear energy. ‘I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died,’ he says.
Respondents generally support nuclear as part of the state’s energy mix. But when it comes to the government acting to help out the industry, they aren’t so sure.