Constellation chief doesn’t rule out Three Mile Island restart

May 24, 2024, 9:34AMNuclear News
An aerial photo of the three mile island nuclear power station. (Photo: Constellation)

On the company’s earnings call this month, Constellation CEO Joe Dominguez was asked if there is a possibility of restarting the shuttered Three Mile Island plant—as is being proposed for the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan.

“We’re not unaware that opportunity exists for us,” Dominguez said. “We’re obviously seen what’s happened with Palisades and I think that was brilliant. Brilliant for the nation. … We are doing a good bit of thinking about a number of different opportunities, and that would probably certainly be one of those that we would think about.”

Dominguez said the company was not ready to discuss capital or any other scenarios relating to a potential TMI restart; and Constellation is touting numerous other priorities for its nuclear ambitions at the moment, including relicensing and up-rating plants in its existing fleet.

Restart background: In March, the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would issue a $1.5 billion loan guarantee for repowering the shuttered Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert Township, Michigan.

The single-unit 800-megawatt Palisades nuclear power plant was shuttered in May 2022 and subsequently acquired by Holtec International for decommissioning. In October 2023, Holtec submitted an operating licensing application for Palisades with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with the intention of seeking financial assistance from the DOE to restore the facility’s commercial operations. Holtec has indicated interest in expanding Palisades with two small modular reactors as well.

While the process is still very much under consideration, it has prompted discussion of what other U.S. nuclear plants could come back on line.

TMI’s history: Constellation—then Exelon Generation—shut down TMI Unit 1 on Sept. 20, 2019, following 45 years of electricity generation at the site. The 800-megawatt plant had been relicensed for operation until 2034 but the company prematurely shuttered the plant due to unfavorable economic conditions as prices for natural gas hit historic lows and government subsidies for clean energy were not extended to nuclear.

At the time of TMI Unit 1’s closure, Exelon officials cited the primary reason as market flaws in the PJM Interconnection that “failed to recognize the environmental and resiliency benefits from TMI and other zero-carbon nuclear energy plants across the Commonwealth.” Unlike Pennsylvania, nearby states (New York and New Jersey) enacted policies to financially support nuclear power plants.

The more notorious TMI Unit 2, which was the site of a 1979 nuclear accident, has been defueled and remains in a monitored storage condition with no discussion of restarting. It is owned by EnergySolutions.

What’s next? As Dominguez said, Constellation is “not there yet” in terms of announcing any decision or plans for restarting TMI Unit 1.

Instead, much of the company’s Q1 earnings call focused on continued maintenance and support for Constellation’s existing nuclear fleet—the nation’s largest—and the potential to add advanced nuclear technology at its current sites. Those moves could provide the quickest near-term support for increased power generation demands as data centers and artificial intelligence growth strains the current U.S. power grid.

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