May 24, 2019 08:57 AM EDT
On March 28, 1978, in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, one of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station's two reactors experienced a partial meltdown, discharging toxic radiation into the atmosphere. The accident allegedly happened due to mechanical or electrical failure. Although, no people were injured or killed in the accident, some studies have linked certain cancer cases in the region to the mishap. Most studies, however, have not found any decisive evidence that the accident resulted in any long-term health problems. Nonetheless, the TMI accident became a grave example of the hazards of producing nuclear power.
With news of the TMI nuclear plant shutting down this fall, there are experts contesting the decision and advocating federal subsidies be replaced by nuclear power as it is a major source of clean energy and electric grid dependability.
Exelon, the owner of the TMI nuclear station, announced that it will cease site operations beginning in September as it has been bleeding millions of dollars per year. The firm had pursued substantial appropriations or policy changes in Harrisburg for the plant to be economically sustainable. However, proposals advocating for nuclear power subsidies in Pennsylvania found little footing in the Capitol.
"TMI should not be shut down, but the reasons why go beyond the global warming issue," stated James Miller, Professor at the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University. "A more imminent and far more consequential threat than global warming is that of the reliability and resiliency of the electrical power grid," he said. "Grid reliability depends on the maintenance of a delicate balance between electricity demand and supply. Failure to do so can lead to blackouts. The larger the blackout, the more difficult it becomes and the longer it takes to restore power. Little has been done to protect the grid from catastrophic blackouts."
Miller spoke in contradiction of the dependability of wind and solar energy, implying that adding more of such energy would make the grid more vulnerable to failure. The professor also said that the resulting blackout because of the unreliable energy source in the grid could result in "catastrophic human disaster", similar to the unfavorable effects of a major war.
"Nuclear plants promote both grid reliability and resiliency. When it comes to providing electricity, minimizing cost is far less important than providing dependable power. The consequences of a large and long power blackout could result in a catastrophic human and economic disaster on par with that of a major war," he said.
When asked about the numerous concerns of the safety of nuclear power, given TMI's accident disaster and tragedies like the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident, the professor said that the industry has learned from its past mistakes and has the best safety records in terms of per kWh of energy produced.
The state of Pennsylvania, which is far behind other states in combating climate change, is currently witnessing a push from nuclear industry advocates on its qualifications of being a clean energy source. According to recent bipartisan state legislative caucus report's findings on nuclear energy, nuclear plants in Pennsylvania produce more than 93 percent of the state's emission-free energy and prevent the release of more than 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions on an annual basis.
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