By Scott DiSavino
(Reuters) - Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island power plant will close in 2019, 40 years after the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history, as low natural gas prices make the costs of atomic energy uncompetitive, its owner said on Tuesday.
The plant's name has been synonymous with public fears over the risks associated with nuclear power since the plant suffered a partial meltdown in 1979, sparking sweeping new rules for handling emergencies at nuclear sites.
Exelon Corp, the U.S. power company that owns the Middletown, Pennsylvania, power plant said it will close by Sept. 30, 2019. Three Mile Island employs about 675 people, produces enough electricity to power 800,000 homes and pays more than $1 million in state property taxes a year, the company said.
Low natural gas prices from abundant shale formations like Pennsylvania's Marcellus have kept power prices low for years, making it difficult for nuclear reactors to compete with lower cost gas-fired generators in deregulated power markets in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest.
Since 2013, the nuclear industry has shut six reactors for economic reasons before their licenses expired in California, Florida, Nebraska, Vermont and Wisconsin, and plan to shut at least six more over the next five years.
No one died during the 1979 meltdown and a federal review found minimal health effects in the 2 million people who lived near the central Pennsylvania plant, situated about 180 miles (300 km) west of New York City.
Pennsylvania "has an opportunity to take a leadership role by implementing a policy solution to preserve its nuclear energy facilities and the clean, reliable energy and good-paying jobs they provide," Chris Crane, Exelon president and CEO, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)