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Monday
Sep232019

Three Mile Island: What was once too cheap to meter, is now too toxic to clean up

Three Mile Island Alert has put up a billboard in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, warning folks that vigilance is still very much needed, even after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant's last operating unit shut down for good last Friday.

Of course, the "too cheap to meter" part is a sarcastic joke. Nuclear power has long been too expensive to matter. (And in their remarkable 1999 book, The Nuclear Power Deception: U.S. Nuclear Mythology from Electricity "Too Cheap to Meter" to "Inherently Safe Reactors", authors Arjun Makhijani and Scott Saleska document that Lewis Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, who uttered the infamous phrase in the early 1950s, already had in hand plenty of evidence that nuclear power would be exorbitantly expensive.)

While de-fueled reactors means a core meltdown is no longer possible, by definition, the high risks have now moved to the high-level radioactive waste storage pools, and irradiated nuclear fuel dry casks. And, as TMIA warns above, hazardous radioactive contamination blankets the site in the middle of the Susquehanna River.

Nuclear corporations Exelon of Chicago, IL, and FirstEnergy of Akron, OH, are currently responsible for the decommissioning phase at Three Mile Island's Unit 1s and 2. Word is, they will "SAFSTORE" the plant for decades to come, before beginning facility dismantlement, and "low-level" radioactive waste and contamination export to a dump someplace else. (There is nowhere for high-level radioactive waste to be shipped off to.)

But nuclear utilities sometimes change their policy on a dime, and move into prompt decommissioning at breakneck speed. In fact, both scandal-ridden Holtec International (and its decommissioning partner, SNC-Lavalin), as well as NorthStar (a consortium which includes Waste Control Specialists, as well as Orano, formerly Areva, of France) claim such prompt decommissioning as their business model.

Vigilance is required. Such firms often seek to drain down already woefully inadequate decommissioning trust funds, as at Three Mile Island, to line their own pockets, and pay unrelated bills. All this, while doing as little actual radioactive contamination cleanup as they can get away with, and taking as many short cuts on safety and security re: on-site high-level radioactive waste management as they can get away with. The fight is on.