Jeffrey Smith was visiting his parents in the Harrisburg area during the weekend disaster that struck the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in March 1979.
It didn’t dissuade him from becoming an advocate for nuclear power.
“You haven’t seen that since,” Smith said of the set of circumstances that resulted in a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor during what is regarded as the most serious accident at a nuclear plant in the United States.
Smith discussed Three Mile Island and Fukushima, Japan, where an earthquake and tsunami caused cores to melt in 2011, after he addressed the Washington County commissioners during the public comment segment of the board’s first meeting of the year.
He asked the commissioners to support a resolution supporting nuclear energy in Pennsylvania, a request he’s making in all counties bordering Beaver, where First Energy Solutions has announced the nuclear plant in Shippingport will close in 2021.
It may seem like an unusual pitch to make before a governmental body that just last month adopted a budget showing the county received nearly $8.3 million in income related to natural gas industry leases under county property and state Act 13 money during 2017, the last year for which totals are available.
“This effort is to find a way to keep the power plants working,” Smith said. “It is not in any way an adversarial position to gas or coal or wind or solar. We need all kinds of energy to be energy independent in this country.
“Nuclear power produces something like 38 percent of all the electricity in Pennsylvania,” Smith said. “All of a sudden, you take that 38 percent away, now there’s going to be a lot more carbon emissions. That’s a big issue in this country.”
There are about 800 jobs at stake at the Beaver Valley nuclear power station, but other businesses in the area that depend on income from the plant’s workforce will also suffer if it closes, Smith said,
He noted the Beaver County commissioners last month adopted a resolution supporting nuclear energy that they forwarded to Pennsylvania state senators, representatives and the governor. He asked the Washington County commissioners to do the same.
Smith, a Butler councilman who formerly chaired the Butler County Republican Committee and retired from PPG Industries, said he he is not a registered lobbyist but was recruited by a colleague from the Harrisburg area.
Pennsylvania has five nuclear power-generating plants, which Smith noted operate 24/7 in all kinds of weather, “helping ensure the resilience of our electric system.”
As is their custom, the commissioners did not discuss the matter with Smith during the meeting.
Mention of the Shippingport plant surfaces every so often at commissioners’ agenda-setting meetings because Washington County is designated to host evacuees should an accident or incident there result in an exodus.