Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant that melted down in 1979 just a few years into its lifespan, will close in 2019, according to a report by CBS. Although the plant survived the worst nuclear disaster in U.S. history, the plant isn’t the casualty of its own infamy — indeed, it ran for decades after the meltdown and clean up — but of the natural gas boom and renewable energy.
The shutdown comes fifteen years before the plant’s license to operate was set to expire. Despite industry advocates calling for nuclear power to receive some of the same boosts given to solar and wind power, benefits that detractors refer to as “nuclear bailouts,” Three Mile Island isn’t the only plant that will be shut down in coming years.
The once-lauded energy source has declined in popularity amidst safety concerns and technology leaps in other sectors that have dropped the cost of other energy sources. CBS reports that Three Mile Island has seen years of financial losses, in part due to competing energy sources and also due to post-recession campaigns to promote energy efficiency that have plateaued demand for power across the board.
Christina Simeone, from the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, told CBS, “I definitely think [Northeast energy companies] are responding to some profound changes in the market as a result of very low prices for natural gas and hyper-competitive natural gas resources.”
Advocates point out that money, land, and resources have already been invested in nuclear power, and that it also provides jobs for which highly specific training is required. They also note that nuclear is a carbon-free energy source, something that can’t be said of natural gas or coal. The latter is perhaps the closest analogue to nuclear’s current woes, and perhaps the best example of another fuel source whose decline could lead to the disruption of a major job sector and the abandonment of existing infrastructure.
CBS reports several other energy companies that could shut down nuclear power plants that are hemorrhaging money. FirstEnergy Corp. is looking at the possibility of selling or shutting down power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and PSEG could take a similar approach to its nuclear utilities in New Jersey. Proximity to fresh natural gas seams is part of why the conversation around the decline of nuclear power seems centered in the Northeast — CBS notes that the region is home to the Marcellus Shale reservoir, which it describes as “the nation’s most prolific gas field.”