NJ customers off the hook for cleanup at Three Mile Island reactor site

JCP&L gets approval to sell off its share in tainted plant, home to nation’s worst nuclear power disaster
Credit: (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
File photo: Three Mile Island nuclear power plant

Forty-one years after Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 partially melted down, customers of Jersey Central Power & light are almost off the hook for any liability stemming from the decommissioning of that nuclear reactor.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities on Wednesday approved the sale of JCP&L’s 25% interest in the plant to Energy Solutions, a Utah-based company, for $10,000. As part of the deal, customers of New Jersey’s second-largest utility will be absolved of any liability in cleaning up from the accident in 1979, the nation’s worst accident at a nuclear power plant.

The board approved the purchase with scant discussion. Ratepayers already have paid $900 million — $239 million by JCP&L customers — to decommission the plant, although the current owner projected earlier this year it could cost $1.3 billion to dismantle the plant.

“This will end all liability from JCP&L ratepayers to TMI-2,’’ said Stacy Peterson, director of BPU’s Division of Energy. “All liabilities are done.’’

In the petition, JCP&L asserted the transfer of the TMI assets for the $10,000 purchase price is appropriate consideration based upon an assessment of the assumed liabilities and estimated cost of decommissioning.

Ratepayers still liable for other costs

While the board order eliminates any future liability for the utility over decommissioning costs, ratepayers will have to pay $740,000 per year for monitoring storage at the unit. JCP&L expects those costs will be eliminated in its next base rate case before the board.

The case typifies problems nuclear plants have faced in the United States. About seven nuclear plants have closed in recent years because of competition from cheaper alternatives for providing electricity, including TMI-I, which closed last year, and Oyster Creek in Lacey Township, which shut down in 2018.

The state’s remaining nuclear units in South Jersey have stayed open, largely because the Murphy administration and Legislature approved $300 million in annual subsidies paid by ratepayers to the facilities. The plants provide 94% of the carbon-free electricity to customers in New Jersey.