An energy services company that specializes in dismantling old nuclear reactors is negotiating to acquire the damaged Three Mile Island Unit 2 near Harrisburg from FirstEnergy Corp.

EnergySolutions Inc. announced Tuesday it has signed a term sheet with GPU Nuclear, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., of Akron, Ohio, to acquire the Three Mile Island reactor, which was destroyed in a 1979 accident only a few months after it began commercial operations.

The agreement does not include Three Mile Island Unit 1, the neighboring reactor owned by Exelon Generation that is set to go into retirement in September.

“We are looking forward to working with FirstEnergy to acquire the asset and to safely complete the decommissioning of this site,” Ken Robuck, president and chief executive of Energy Solutions, said in a statement.

Three Mile Island
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Three Mile Island

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Nor was a timetable, though EnergySolutions presumably would dismantle the facility on a faster schedule.

The Unit 2 decommissioning costs, which FirstEnergy last year estimated at $1.26 billion, would be paid out of a trust fund.

After the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear accident 40 years ago, most of the reactor’s partially melted uranium fuel was hauled away to the Idaho National Lab, where the radioactive waste now slowly decays in steel and concrete containers, awaiting long-term disposal.

But the formal decommissioning of the damaged Unit 2 reactor, site of America’s worst commercial nuclear disaster, has not yet really begun. FirstEnergy Corp. has said that the plant would remain dormant until Exelon’s neighboring reactor shuts down.

EnergySolutions, based in Salt Lake City, is a competitor to Holtec International of Camden in the market for decommissioning old nuclear reactors. In a nuclear industry under contraction, the dismantlement of retired reactors is one of the few growth businesses.

EnergySolutions has nearly completed decommissioning of Exelon’s Zion Nuclear Power Station in Illinois and the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor in Wisconsin. The company is also in a partnership with engineering firm AECOM to decommission the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant in Southern California, and recently reach an agreement to decommission the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant in Nebraska.

The Three Mile Island decommissioning would be the first in which EnergySolutions takes title to the property and the reactor license. The deal would require approval of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Under federal regulations, plant operators have 60 years to clean up a site after a plant closes.

The Three Mile Island power plant complex in Middletown, Pa. Unit 2, on the left, infamously shut down in 1979 after an accident. Exelon Corp., which owns Unit 1, on the right, says it will shut down the plant in 2019 unless the state comes to the rescue.
Clem Murray
The Three Mile Island power plant complex in Middletown, Pa. Unit 2, on the left, infamously shut down in 1979 after an accident. Exelon Corp., which owns Unit 1, on the right, says it will shut down the plant in 2019 unless the state comes to the rescue.

The NRC on Tuesday held a public meeting on Exelon’s decommissioning plans for Unit 1, which is set to close no later than Sept. 30.

Exelon said its decommissioning will take nearly 60 years and $1.2 billion to complete, though the company has outsourced the dismantlement of other reactors to companies such as EnergySolutions and Holtec under accelerated schedules.