Midstate residents questioned whether Three Mile Island is safe and secure Tuesday as federal officials decide whether to renew the license for the nuclear power station.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a meeting at the Harrisburg-Hershey Sheraton to gather public comment on a draft report that is part of the re-licensing process for TMI's Unit 1. The unit is the only one that has operated at TMI since Unit 2 was crippled in a partial meltdown in 1979.
TMI owner Exelon Nuclear is seeking a 20-year extension of its license for Unit 1. Its current license expires in 2014, and Tuesday's public meeting was one step in the lengthy re-licensing process.
Dauphin County resident Diane Little urged the NRC to require more security measures to guard against a terrorist attack or a plane crash from nearby Harrisburg International Airport.
"We have a unique situation at Three Mile Island. The airport was there well before the nuclear power plant," Little said.
Scott Portzline of the citizen-watchdog group Three Mile Island Alert questioned whether the plant is safe from an earthquake or a water-bound attack via the Susquehanna River.
Portzline also questioned if the public comments will matter in the re-licensing decision.
"It's really a waste of time to be here," he said.
The draft of the NRC's environmental impact study rates the radiological releases and other adverse impacts from the plant as minimal.
An NRC official said the plant is solid and subject to regular security evaluations, while Exelon Nuclear maintains it provides a safe and clean source of energy.
NRC projects branch chief Ronald Bellamy said TMI's shell is not the only structure protecting the facility from aircraft. He said there are more physical impediments inside that would provide extra protection.
Exelon spokesman Ralph DeSantis said the plant has made $17 million in security upgrades since 2001 and is in the process of spending another $5 million.
The upgrades include barriers, surveillance equipment and razor-wire fencing. The plant has also roughly doubled the size of its heavily armed security force, he said.
"Security experts call Three Mile Island a hardened facility," DeSantis said.
Karen Walsh, executive director of the Pennsylvania Energy Alliance, spoke in favor of re-licensing TMI as a way to provide energy without contributing to global warming. Her group is a coalition of business, environmental and labor interests.
Walsh said nuclear energy helps meet our energy needs without emitting greenhouse gas emissions.
READ AND RESPOND
A draft environmental impact study of Three Mile Island can be viewed at www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1437.
Public comment will be accepted until March 4 and can be e-mailed to ThreeMileIslandEIS@nrc.gov.