July 20, 2024
Three Mile Island’s recent closure shows what people don’t realize about nuclear power
Three Mile Island nuclear power generating station.
Three Mile Island nuclear power generating station.

Did you know that the Three Mile Island nuclear plant only shut down last Friday? Just like the coming closure of New York’s Indian Point plant, it’s bad news in the drive to reduce carbon emissions.

The 1979 partial meltdown at TMI’s Unit Two is infamous as “America’s worst nuclear disaster,” often listed along with Russia’s Chernobyl and Japan’s Fukushima disasters. But it’s a not-so-bad “worst” when you learn that Unit One was completely undamaged, and indeed could have chugged along for another 15 years.

What prompted the Pennsylvania plant’s early shutdown? Abundant, cheap natural gas — thanks to fracking, which has been a huge boon to the Keystone State’s economy. So cheap that the nuclear power wasn’t cost-competitive without a subsidy from the state.

Its operators wanted a penny per kilowatt hour — less than half of what Pennsylvania offers wind and solar plants, which can’t deliver the reliable power to make them a viable large-scale alternative to oil, coal or gas facilities. (Unit One took care of 800,000 homes.)

Giving up on nuclear has forced Japan, Germany and Vermont to increase their reliance on carbon-based fuels: gas, oil and even coal. Pennsylvania will inevitably go the same way.

Unit One’s four-decades-plus operation is proof that nuclear power is far safer than its rep suggests. (Even the accident at Unit Two cost no lives, and never leaked significant radiation.) And plants built with modern tech would be safer still, and longer-lasting.