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The Lingering Effects of Three Mile Island

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The Lingering Effects of Three Mile Island

The Three Mile Island accident took place in Middletown, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. During this accident even though there was no meltdown, there was some radioactive gas that was let out into the air. As a result more than 50,000 people were evacuated from their homes (Levine 60-3). The Three Mile Island incident had a major impact on public opinion, the construction of nuclear plants, and the future of nuclear power.

Three Mile Island was a three month old nuclear power plant located in southeast Pennsylvania. On March 28, 1979, a series of mechanical and human errors led to above-normal levels of radioactive gas being released into the air. Subsequently 400,000 gallons of water from a holding tank containing xenon-133 and xenon-135 was released into the Susquehanna River. (Davis 313) By the end of Thursday, March 29, detectable levels of increased radiation were measured over a four-county area. Plant officials estimated that 180 to 300 of the 36,000 fuel rods in the reactor had melted. (Davis 313) The governor advised that pregnant women and small children evacuate and stay at least five miles away from the facility. They did this for good reason because almost 80% of the gas escaped the morning of the accident (Davis 313). After the accident people filed more than 2,200 law suits. But only 280 claims have been settled for $14 million (Freiham 290). Deaths from thyroid cancer have been monitored in Middletown, but no link to

radiation has been established (Davis 314). The Three Mile Island unit number 1 got $95 million in modifications. It was also renovated. It took them six years to do all of this. The Three Mile Island unit number 2 was not repaired. However, safety experts still continued to observe and monitor the plant until early 2000. By now the total life-time cost at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant is close to $2 billion (Freiham 290-91).

The Three Mile Island incident attracted hundreds of reporters. According to Wilborn Hampton, "there seemed to be more journalists than local residents." (Hampton 46). Many people compared the Three Mile Island accident to a movie called "The China Syndrome" where almost the same thing happened (Levine 60). Metropolitan Edison failed to alert any state or federal official that something was wrong inside of the Three Mile Island reactor. They changed their story three times. First it was a broken water pump, then it was a stuck valve, and last it was a clogged filter (Hampton 23-4). Almost all of the reporters who were in Middletown went to church on Sunday. They went to Presbyterian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Almost everybody was gone by that time, so there were more reporters at the services than local residents (63).

The protest movement against nuclear power was already big after the Three Mile Island incident, but when the Chernobyl disaster happened, it was rocket-powered. The disaster put a stop to all construction of nuclear power plants nation-wide (Davis 315). The Three Mile Island accident, however, couldn't have happened at a worse time. Americans need nuclear energy because the country is so oil dependent. But even back in 1979, people recognized that nuclear power needed to be part of our energy source (Readers Digest 72). The incident was responsible for the abandonment of the Shoreham Nuclear Energy plant and opened the door to an escalation of protest activity (Davis 315).

We can't completely eliminate nuclear power without bad consequences. If they shut down all the nuclear power plants, there would be many blackouts and brownouts. It

would also threaten public safety and health (Readers Digest 73). Also electricity bills would soar, and power companies would pay $20 a barrel for oil (Readers Digest 73).

Congress is expected to start funding a $1.1 billion project to build a new breed of nuclear reactor. The DOE (Department of Energy) has designed six new types of reactors. They will build a new type of reactor in Idaho. The kind of reactor that will be built is called a Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR). The plant will use graphite instead of Zirconium to cradle the uranium, so that a Three Mile Island style disaster is impossible. The VHTR is designed to generate intense heat; then it is cooled by helium and it will operate at 1,000 degrees Celsius. Since hydrogen is supposed to be the fuel for the future cars, the plant will also supply energy to an adjacent hydrogen plant. Andrew Kadak, a plant engineer, says, "The new plant would be meltdown proof."(Andrew Kadak). The passive safety system requires no frantic scrambling by personnel to save the day, making it harder to sabotage. Another reason for building more plants is that many other nations are building new ones as well. For instance, India is building eight of them (Ivry 1-2)

Since 1973, there has been no new nuclear power plants built. However, 103 reactors are still operational in the U.S. Fission is no longer considered the energy of the future. The enhancements introduced after the Three Mile Island accident such as requiring better trained plant operators have made nuclear power more expensive than coal and hydro electric power. Since Three Mile Island, sixty nuclear plants across the

U.S. have been shut down or abandoned. Three Mile Island will be sold for $100 million to Entergy Corporation; this is one- seventh its book value (Lavelle 38).

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a governmental agency that heavily regulates all places of nuclear power plant activities; it oversees construction, operation, and shutdowns. Nuclear power plants must be licensed by the NRC. Three Mile Island was shut down by NRC order. It revoked its operating license. The Three

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