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Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant To Proceed With Closure

Joe Ulrich

Three Mile Island, site of the United States' worst commercial nuclear power accident, now appears certain it will not get a financial rescue from Pennsylvania and will begin a planned shutdown starting June 1, its owner said Wednesday.

Exelon Corp.'s statement comes two years after the Chicago-based energy giant said it would close the money-losing plant without what critics have called a bailout.

The fight over Three Mile Island and Pennsylvania's four other nuclear power plants invigorated a debate over the "zero carbon emissions" characteristics of nuclear power in the age of global warming and in one of the nation's largest fossil fuel-producing states.

Shutting down Three Mile Island will cut its life short by 15 years — it is licensed to operate through 2034 — and its power is expected to be replaced by electricity from coal and natural gas-fired power plants that running below capacity in a saturated market.

"Although we see strong support in Harrisburg and throughout Pennsylvania to reduce carbon emissions and maintain the environmental and economic benefits provided by nuclear energy, we don't see a path forward for policy changes before the June 1 fuel purchasing deadline for TMI," Kathleen Barrón, an Exelon senior vice president, said in a statement.

A roughly $500 million package for Three Mile Island and Pennsylvania's four other nuclear power plants has stalled without a vote in the Legislature, and Wednesday is the state Senate's last scheduled session day of May.

Nuclear power plants around the U.S. have been struggling in recent years to compete with generating stations that burn plentiful and cheap natural gas to produce electricity. Exelon has won rescues in New Jersey, New York and Illinois, but in Pennsylvania it faced opposition from the state's considerable natural gas industry, not to mention industrial users and consumer advocates.

Three Mile Island faces particularly difficult economics because the 1979 accident left it with just one reactor.

The rescue package split the leadership of the state Legislature's Republican majorities, and Democrats broadly said they would not go along with a rescue without significantly advancing the goals of renewable energies, such as wind and solar power.