Report: Constellation discusses TMI restart with Pa. officials

July 8, 2024, 7:21AMNuclear News
An aerial photo of Three Mile Island nuclear power station. (Photo: Constellation)

Constellation Energy is in talks with the governor’s office and state legislators about funding to restart a unit at Three Mile Island nuclear plant, Reuters has reported. The ongoing talks have been described as “beyond preliminary” by two sources.

Constellation chief executive Joe Dominguez indicated on the company’s May earnings call that such a plan for TMI was an “opportunity . . . that we would think about.”

Now it would seem Constellation may move forward with plans to bring new life to TMI Unit 1 in southern Pennsylvania, which operated successfully from 1974 until 2019.

Officially, the company still says, “Though we have determined it would be technically feasible to restart the unit, we have not made any decision on a restart as there are many economic, commercial, operational, and regulatory considerations remaining,” according to spokesman Mark Rodgers.

Why now? Plans to restart Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan have gotten headlines since March, when the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would issue a $1.5 billion loan guarantee for repowering the single-unit 800-MW facility.

The plant closed in May 2022 and subsequently was acquired by Holtec International for decommissioning—but in October 2023, Holtec submitted an operating licensing application for Palisades to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission if the company could obtain financial assistance from the DOE. Holtec has indicated interest in expanding Palisades with two small modular reactors as well.

“Restarting closed nuclear plants offers another opportunity for the industry to add clean, reliable energy to the grid, as is currently underway at Palisades in Michigan. That effort has sparked discussion about Three Mile Island Unit 1,” Constellation said in its statement.

Also, interest in nuclear energy is seeing a resurgence in the United States as the growing number of data centers are pushing the demand for power.

In March, Talen Energy sold a 960-MW data center campus right next to its Susquehanna two-unit nuclear plant in northeastern Pennsylvania to Amazon Web Services. Talen will supply behind-the-meter power from Susquehanna in stages as the data center is built out and will get additional revenue from AWS for sales of electricity to the grid. Similar projects are in Constellation’s sights and also are being discussed at sites across the U.S.

TMI’s history: Constellation—then Exelon Generation—shut down Unit 1 on Sept. 20, 2019, following 45 years of electricity generation at TMI. The 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-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-2, 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 and would not be included in any restart plans by Constellation.

What’s next? In June, Constellation confirmed that it had completed an engineering study of TMI-1, but it remained unclear whether the company would proceed with reopening the facility.

According to Dominguez, Constellation is unlikely to acquire new sites but will focus on expanding its current nuclear fleet—the nation’s largest—citing the potential of adding advanced nuclear technology at its current sites.

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