Three Mile Island radiation monitoring to continue as Exelon pulls planning dollars
State regulators plan to continue off-site monitoring of radiation from Three Mile Island, which could provide early warning of a possible hazardous leak, when Exelon pulls back from its emergency planning duties in January.
Last month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed Exelon to reduce its responsibility for both units, including funding to various local governments. While the company owns Unit 1, it was put in charge of emergency planning for both, including Unit 2 which partially melted down in 1979.
Jamar Thrasher, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Friday the agency has a statutory requirement to maintain environmental and emergency response programs.
“We will not reduce either in the short term,” he said.
Last week, the NRC issued an environmental assessment that essentially bolstered its earlier decision to allow Exelon to scale back its role in coordinating and funding such programs. In September 2019, after Exelon shuttered Unit 1, Exelon relocated its nuclear fuel rods to the spent fuel pool, literally a cooling tank filled with water. That radioactive fuel will remain in the pool until the completion of a dry cask storage system — metal containers encased in concrete — sometime in late 2022.
The NRC concluded that the fuel will be safe enough in the spent fuel pool for Exelon to reduce its emergency planning footprint. Nuclear watchdogs, including Eric Epstein, criticized the move as short-sighted given the possibility that a malfunction or external disaster could lead to a public health hazard. The most recent high-profile example was at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, which lost the power needed to continue cooling its fuel following a tsunami.
Exelon spokesman David Marcheskie said Exelon’s revised plan, which takes effect in January, places more emphasis on conditions at the plant.
“With no fuel in the reactor and multiple and redundant backup systems in place to safely store the Unit 1 spent fuel, TMI’s already low risk to public health and safety declines even further,” he said, in a written statement.
In January, Exelon will end the routine siren tests, off-site radiation monitoring and 10-mile evacuation zone around the site. It would also end its contributions to local governments which, in 2018, included $425,000 to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency; $87,000 to Dauphin County and $5,000 to Londonderry Township, where the facility is located.
Until recently, it was unclear if off-site radiation monitoring would continue. The DEP clarified Friday that it would take on the responsibility for the foreseeable future.
Epstein, for his part, questioned the state’s budgetary wherewithal to continue realtime, off-site monitoring — the kind he said would be necessary in the event of an evacuation scenario.
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