‘No Nukes’ News from May 2019: Three Mile Island Nuke Plant Shutting Down – Finally!

by on June 4, 2019 · 0 comments

in Energy, Environment

Screen grab from NRC video on Three Mile Island nuke plant accident.

By Michael Steinberg / Blackrain Press

On May 8 the New York Times reported, “Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Is Shutting Down.”The story explained that Chicago-based Exelon, the plant’s owner, would be permanently closing the plant at the end of this September because it had been losing money, and a plan for the state of Pennsylvania to bail it out had failed.

There are two nuclear reactor’s at the plant. Reactor #1 started up in 1974, so it will be 45 years old when it shuts down in four month. The plant is located on the Susquehanna River, south of Harrisburg, the state capital.

Exelon is closing down reactor #1 even though it is licensed to operate it until 2034. The utility said that decommissioning the plant, taking down the structure and dealing with leftover high level nuclear waste, will cost $1.2 billion, but won’t even start until 2074.

What Is a “Partial” Meltdown?

In popular consciousness, Three Mile Island brings to mind the most serious admitted disaster at a US nuclear plant, which happened at reactor #2 in March 1979.

This reactor had only started up at the end of 1978. In the middle of the night operators lost control of the reactor, leading to a meltdown of its nuclear fuel and the release of radiation for most of a week that exposed  about 2 million people. As the Times put it, it was “an accident that would generate a week of doomsday, fear, panicky flights, conflicting statements, noisy demonstrations and intense confusion.”

Dr. Ernest Sternglass, a prominent nuclear critic, was on the scene, and called for an immediate evacuation of the local populace. But days went by before Pennsylvania’s governor ordered this, but only for pregnant women and young children, estimated to be 3400 people. But instead 144,00 within 15 miles of the plant fled, most to 80 to 100 miles away.

After about a week plant workers stopped the meltdown and avoided a hydrogen explosion inside the plant that could have released even more massive amounts of radiation, as happened at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011.

The official line is that no one died or was injured by in the TMI debacle. But subsequently almost $25 million was paid to people who  had filed lawsuits claiming injuries they had suffered were caused by the disaster. To receive this compensation people had to agree they would never discuss their injuries.

Lawyers representing 2000 of these clients enlisted Dr. Steve Wing and associates of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health to look into this matter. Their study concluded, “Cancer incidence, specifically lung cancer and leukemia, increased following the Three Mile Island accident in areas estimated to have been in the pathway of the radioactive plume” compared to other areas.

And another study, by Joseph Mangano of the Radiation and Public Health Project, that appeared in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, found increased rates of thyroid cancer in counties adjacent to TMI subsequent to the meltdown.

Also, sometime after accident, the Nuclear Regulatory Project revealed that 2.3 million gallons of radioactive water had been released from the nuke plant into the Susquehanna River.

The supposed cleanup of the plant after the accident took until 1993.

As for reactor #1, which was already shutdown for refueling when the disaster struck, it didn’t restart until 1985, due to public opposition and legal actions opposing it.

In retrospect, the Three Mile Island “accident” was the beginning of the end of the US nuclear power industry. Few new nuke plants were ordered after the disaster.

Sources: New York Times, nyt.com; Millstone and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut, Michael Steinberg; Secret Fallout: From Hiroshima To Three Mile Island, Ernest Sternglass; Radiation and Public Health Project, radiation.org.


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