Let’s say you’re trying to declutter your home. You realize you haven’t plugged in your VCR since 2000. In fact, it still has a copy of “Titanic” in it. But you think you might have some use for it someday. So the VCR lingers on a shelf, and your home gets no closer to achieving a Marie Kondo-like ideal of order and harmony.
That seems to be the sort of thinking that’s driving Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman when it comes to the commonwealth’s nuclear power plants.
Even as nuclear power has become safer in the 40 years since the partial core meltdown at Dauphin County’s Three Mile Island put the nation on edge, it has lost out in the energy marketplace to renewables and natural gas. This has led to the closing of some nuclear plants, and there’s a distinct possibility that Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley in Beaver County will be joining them.
Yet Corman said last week that Pennsylvania should save the plants because, at some undetermined point in the future, it might need them in case the state needs to diversify its energy portfolio.
According to Corman, Pennsylvania should accord nuclear power the same kind of preferential treatment that is given to renewables like solar, wind and biofuels under the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act. Approved in 2004, the law requires that, by 2021, utilities purchase 8 percent of their power from renewable sources. Corman also said he is opposed to tacking an additional charge onto ratepayer bills in order to prop up the commonwealth’s nuclear power plants.
But nuclear power plants should not be kept alive if they no longer have a viable position in the marketplace. Nuclear power providers have been losing to renewables and natural gas in wholesale electricity auctions. Aging nuclear plants are also at a disadvantage due to the increasing cost of equipment, fuel and reactor components.
And then there’s the unique case of Three Mile Island, which has only one functioning reactor in the wake of the accident there two generations ago.
Chris Tomlinson, a columnist for The Houston Chronicle, wrote in 2017, “Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did.”
Tomlinson acknowledged that there could be a future for nuclear power if it can eventually compete effectively with natural gas and renewables, and that could include smaller reactors. But, in the meantime, “Nuclear energy leaders need to spend less time lobbying for government handouts for out-dated, expensive technology and focus on innovation. The coal industry thought they could win through manipulating politicians, and we all know how that ended up.”
Granted, employees of both Three Mile Island and Beaver Valley will lose their jobs if the plants close. Businesses around the plants will suffer. But should an industry that seems increasingly outmoded be kept afloat? The answer is no.