Three Mile Island

All of my research and writing on Three Mile Island is dedicated to my dad, Frank William Pell, who worked at the nuclear plant for more than 30 years. I love you and I miss you.

Personal Work

16 August 2021. “A family connection to the opening and closing of Three Mile Island.” PennLive Letters | Opinion.

28 April 2021. “Three Mile Island: On the Closure and Decommissioning of a Nuclear Power Plant.” Lunchtime Lecture Series, Science History Institute.

24 September 2020. “The Steps to Closing a Nuclear Power Plant.” Physics Buzz, American Physical Society.

5 May 2020. “Three Mile Island and lessons in crisis communication.” Physics Today, American Institute of Physics.

7 October 2019. “Three Mile Island: On the 1979 Accident and Its Decommissioning Forty Years Later.” Ex Libris Universum, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics.

Community Advisory Panel Updates

Presentation on the TMI Unit-2 Tour for the August 4, 2021 CAP meeting:

RECAP: Notes from the first meeting of the TMI-2 Community Advisory Panel, 04/07/21

April 7, 2021 was the first meeting of the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) for the Three Mile Island Unit-2 Decommissioning. According to the charter, the CAP is a “volunteer, non-regulatory organization established to engage the local community and to facilitate communications regarding the decommissioning of TMI-2.” Our purpose is to serve as a “formal channel of community involvement and communication related to the decommissioning project.” There is precedent for this group — a Three Mile Island Unit 2 Advisory Panel was formed in the aftermath of the 1979 partial meltdown in response to public concern about its cleanup. In 2020, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) published a report on best practices for local community advisory boards associated with decommissioning activities at nuclear power plants.

“Lots of people stand to benefit from your [CAP members] engagement and involvement,” noted Bill Ostendorff, a member of the Decommissioning Nuclear Safety and Review Board (DNSRB).

The partial meltdown at TMI-2 — occurring just months after its operations began — is often regarded as the “most serious in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history.” According to TMI-2 Solutions, approximately 99% of the damaged fuel was safely and successfully remove in the post-accident refueling process. In his overview of the TMI-2 decommissioning process, TMI-2 project manager Scott Baskett emphasized the commitment to a safety conscious work environment in line with the NRC policy of “Freedom of Employees in the Nuclear Industry to Raise Safety Concerns Without Fear of Retaliation,” as well as EnergySolutions’ decommissioning and dismantlement knowledge transferred from each site to the next. However, TMI-2’s unique history will come with its own particular set of decommissioning challenges, including the fact that there are now two owners and licensees on the island (Exelon owns Unit-1).

TMI-2 Solutions is a subsidiary company of EnergySolutions, an “industry leader in nuclear decommissioning” based in Salt Lake City, Utah. EnergySolutions closed the sale of TMI-2 in December 2020. The company specializes in nuclear waste management for operating plants and boasts a decade of continuous reactor decommissioning project experience. EnergySolutions has partnered with Jingoli, a general contractor and construction management company. A joint venture between them has also been formed — ESJ Decommissioning LLC.

According to NRC policies, the NPP decommissioning process must be completed within 60 years of initial shutdown. The TMI-2 Solutions process is expected to take until 2037, earlier than required and, supposedly, under budget. TMI-2 Solutions’ tentative decommissioning timeline includes several phases: Phase 1a, planning and licensing; Phase 1b, damaged core material retrieval; Phase 2, decontamination and decommission; and Phase 3, damaged core materials storage and transfer. Notably, plans are currently underway to possibly dismantle the iconic cooling towers later this year, which was framed as “non-radiological forward progress.” Additional site activity in the near future may include cleaning out the turbine building, shipments of legacy radiation materials, and traffic on the North Bridge to deliver supplies. 

Regulatory oversight for the decommissioning falls under several federal, state, and local jurisdictions: the NRC, Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), Dauphin County, and Londonderry Township. The NRC and PADEP will be conducting on-site inspections to ensure that all regulations are met throughout the process. TMI-2 Solutions emphasized their commitment to “open lines of communication” with the NRC and PADEP. Additionally, TMI-2 Solutions will be working closely with the PA State Historic Preservation Office to preserve significant documents, photos, artifacts, and other records.

The next meeting of the CAP — which will also be held virtually — is scheduled for August 4, 2021 at 2pm. 

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