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Three Mile Island downsizes role in local emergency planning

Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station has received approval to downsize its local emergency response planning and end its siren testing.

DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. — Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station has received approval to downsize its local emergency response planning and end its siren testing as part of the plant's ongoing decommissioning.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on July 27 approved a request by Exelon, owner of the nuclear plant’s Unit 1,  to alter the emergency preparedness plan.

The decision ends siren testing and the 10-mile emergency planning zone around Three Mile Island.

Under the previous emergency plan requirements, Exelon helped lay out evacuation routes and funded public emergency operations. In 2018, Exelon gave more than $500,000 to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and local governments.

Three Mile Island’s two units no longer produce energy. Unit 2 has not been in operation since a partial meltdown in 1979. Unit 1 was shut down in September 2019. 

The risk of radiation reaching the community is much lower in a non-operational plant than an operational one, according to analyses by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Exelon wrote in a statement,

“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. The plant’s updated emergency plan, recently approved by the NRC and based on an extensive analysis of plant conditions, helps ensure that our emergency planning activities accurately reflect this lower level of risk.”

Citizen group Three Mile Island Alert fought against downsizing the emergency planning requirements.

“Any plant that has radioactive waste—and Three Mile Island has over 1,200 metric tons of waste—should have a robust plan in place,” said Eric Epstein, Three Mile Island Alert’s chairman.

Epstein said lower risk didn’t mean no risk.

“They say there’s no chance of an accident, but people were also saying there’s no chance of a meltdown,” he said.

Federal, state and local government will now be responsible for assisting community members in the event of a nuclear emergency.