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North Carolina company to buy crippled Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island, decommission it

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/24/19

As the Sept. 30 shutdown of Three Mile Island Unit 1 approaches, a North Carolina-based company has announced plans to acquire and complete decommissioning of the crippled Unit 2 reactor, site of the …

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North Carolina company to buy crippled Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island, decommission it

Posted

As the Sept. 30 shutdown of Three Mile Island Unit 1 approaches, a North Carolina-based company has announced plans to acquire and complete decommissioning of the crippled Unit 2 reactor, site of the nation’s worst nuclear power accident.

EnergySolutions Inc., a privately held company based in Charlotte, is negotiating purchase of Unit 2 from GPU Nuclear, EnergySolutions announced in a press release July 23.

GPU Nuclear owned TMI-2 when the reactor began commercial operations on Dec. 30, 1978. The accident occurred less than three months later, on March 28, 1979.

GPU Nuclear also owned the other reactor at TMI, Unit 1, until 1998 when Unit 1 was sold to AmerGen. In December 2003, Unit 1 was acquired by Exelon, the present owner.

Exelon plans to shut down operations of Unit 1 effective Sept. 30, as the plant is considered unprofitable.

GPU Nuclear has retained ownership of the crippled Unit 2 reactor. In 2001, Unit 2 was acquired by Ohio-based FirstEnergy, as part of FirstEnergy’s acquisition of GPU Nuclear.

EnergySolutions said in the press release that the company has signed a “term sheet” with GPU Nuclear, meaning the two companies have agreed to negotiate a definitive agreement over the coming months toward EnergySolutions acquiring Unit 2 and its assets.

The acquisition of Unit 2 by EnergySolutions is subject to approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

EnergySolutions acquiring Unit 2 means that EnergySolutions would also become responsible for completing the decommissioning and dismantling of the crippled reactor.

“A prospective new owner of a U.S. nuclear power plant would need to apply to the NRC for a transfer of the facility’s license,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan told the Press & Journal in an email. “Among other things, we would evaluate whether the prospective new owner had the financial and technical wherewithal to safely and effectively decommission the plant.”

Once an agreement is reached between EnergySolutions and GPU Nuclear, EnergySolutions said it will apply to the NRC to transfer all licenses and assets to EnergySolutions.

EnergySolutions is owned by Energy Capital Partners, a company based in New Jersey.

Following the 1979 accident, about 99 percent of the fuel in Unit 2 was removed and shipped to a facility in Idaho.

Since 1993, Unit 1 has been in what the NRC refers to as a SAFSTOR status, where the reactor is kept in safe and stable storage until decommissioning and dismantling can be completed.

The plan submitted by FirstEnergy to the NRC calls for Unit 2 to remain in safe storage through the early 2050s, Sheehan said. EnergySolutions, if it acquires Unit 2, could seek to make changes to the decommissioning schedule, subject to NRC approval.

“If another company wanted to adopt a different approach, as in DECON (immediate dismantlement), that new plan would have to be reviewed by the NRC,” Sheehan said. Both the safe storage and DECON approaches “are permitted under our regulations, so long as the decommissioning work at the site is completed within 60 years after permanent shutdown of the plant.”

EnergySolutions did not indicate whether it will seek to make changes in the timetable for decommissioning. However, the company pointed to its experience in decommissioning other nuclear reactors.

According to the release, that experience includes the nearly completed decommissioning of the Zion Nuclear Power Station in Illinois and the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor in Wisconsin.

The Zion project is the largest commercial decommissioning project in the U.S. to date, EnergySolutions said.

EnergySolutions is also in a partnership to decommission the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in California, and recently reached an agreement to partner in decommissioning the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in Nebraska. EnergySolutions also just completed decommissioning the SEFOR Test Reactor in Arkansas, the company said.

The release says that EnergySolutions has formed a joint venture with Jingoli, a construction company based in New Jersey, to perform the decommissioning of TMI Unit 2.

Jingoli has successfully managed and executed nuclear projects on behalf of numerous utilities in the United States and in Canada, EnergySolutions said.

“We look forward to working with FirstEnergy to acquire the asset and to safely complete the decommissioning of this site,” said EnergySolutions President and CEO Ken Robuck. “Our extensive experience allows us to continue to refine our Decommissioning Management Model, which builds on each project by incorporating lessons learned and utilizing leading technologies that have proven successful.”