Three Mile Island nears license renewal

by MONICA VON DOBENECK, Of The Patriot-News

Thursday September 10, 2009


Steam billows out of the Reactor One cooling towers at the Three Mile Island nuclear power facility in Londonderry Twp.

The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant passed its last milestone on its way to a 20-year license renewal Thursday following a meeting with the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, an advisory group to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said it is likely a final decision will be made in November.


All 54 nuclear plants that have asked for license renewals so far have received them, he said. That is because the plants must address any problems before the license application can move forward, so that some renewals have taken almost four years. Three Mile Island, which is owned by Exelon Nuclear, submitted its application in January 2008.


Eric Epstein, president of the watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert, said his organization did not attempt to stop the license renewal because it would be futile. He said his complaints about nuclear plants remain the same -- where to put the radioactive waste, where the water for cooling will come from, and why Wall Street has not embraced the technology.


Sheehan said inspections at Three Mile Island have been thorough. Aside from the two Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors on site, many other inspectors have walked through the plant with TMI engineers and checked out the plans to deal with aging components. Inspectors have gotten into boats to check out the waterways and vegetation, he said.


"The NRC staff has looked and given them a clean bill of health with minor exceptions," Sheehan said.


There have also been seven public meetings to allow residents to express concerns, he said.


Two issues which took up most of Thursday's discussion involved a thin band of corrosion where a moisture barrier meets the inner lining of the containment building, and the infusion of water into some of the vaults that contain underground cables. The committee members seemed content with the steps Three Mile Island personnel are taking to deal with those matters.


The corrosion will be repaired this fall when the plant shuts down to install its two new steam generators, Three Mile Island spokesman Ralph DiSantis said.

DiSantis said the discussions "went very well for TMI."


"We were able to demonstrate we have the programs to monitor the plant as it ages," he said.