By registering with us, you'll be able to discuss, share and private message with other members of our community.

  1. Welcome to the 12ozProphet Forum...
    You are currently logged out and viewing our forum as a guest which only allows limited access to our discussions, photos and other forum features. If you are a 12ozProphet Member please login to get the full experience.

    Please note, if you are a 12ozProphet Member and are locked out of your account, you can recover your account using the 'lost password' link in the login form. If you no longer have access to the email you registered with, please email us at [email protected] and we'll help you recover your account.

3 mile island , 25 years later....

Discussion in 'Channel Zero' started by mikro137, Mar 28, 2004.

  1. mikro137

    mikro137 Guest

    The cloud remains: Today, questions still persist about the true cause of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident
    Some challenge handling, whether health effects it caused haven't dissipated

    Sunday, March 28, 2004
    By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    ROYALTON, PA. -- Across a narrow Susquehanna River backwater from the island where two mammoth stone cold dead cooling towers sit, a radiation monitor silently flashes digital readouts that change every few seconds.

    Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
    Eric Epstein is chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, a citizens group formed after the worst accident in the history of the civilian nuclear industry. On March 28, 1979, Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant (seen in background) suffered a loss-of-cooling accident, an event so dangerous that it's considered a "worst-case scenario" in safety manuals. Unit 2 is now crippled beyond repair. "It was an historical crime," he said, "and we're in a battle now over memory."
    Click photo for larger image.
    Related article
    Cheaper, safer plant may revive market

    Study claims infant deaths increased after Three Mile Island (March 27, 2004)

    On the Internet
    Dickinson College has posted the interviews done 25 years ago online at www.ThreeMileIsland.org. The Web site includes a virtual museum and government and industry documents not widely available to the public.

    The numbers jump between 7.0 and 7.8 microrems per hour, well within the normal background radiation range at ground zero for the worst commercial nuclear accident in the nation's history.

    Twenty-five years ago today, a series of mechanical malfunctions and human errors led to a partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor and the uncontrolled venting of at least two major plumes of radioactive gas into the atmosphere.

    The accident had a devastating impact on the nuclear power industry; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not reviewed an application to build a new nuclear power plant in the United States since. And it triggered fear, panic, confusion and anger among thousands of people in Central Pennsylvania who lived in the long shadow of the cooling towers and beyond.

    Jane Seller, who still lives about 22 miles west of Three Mile Island in Carlisle, Cumberland County, remembers being worried 25 years ago about a core meltdown and how that might cause long-lasting devastation of the region.

    "It was very scary," said Seller, 70. "The fact that we didn't have a total meltdown was lucky. We found out later it was worse than we thought."

    What she thought in the days after the accident was captured for posterity by Lonna Malmsheimer, a professor of American studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle who, along with two dozen professors and students, interviewed more than 400 people in Carlisle and communities around Three Mile Island in the weeks after the accident. Those audiotaped interviews, kept confidential for 25 years as promised, are now being released by the school.

    In her interview, Seller, then 45 and the mother of two preteen children, said she took the threat posed by the accident seriously, although her children did not. By Friday morning, two days after the accident, she was so concerned about a meltdown and radiation exposure that she began getting ready to leave the area. Pillows, prescriptions and toothbrushes were packed and put in the car.

    "I realized that all the women sitting next to their radios were losing their minds," she said in the interview. "That was really a bad thing to do. We should have been doing our wash or something."

    Seller and her children did leave Carlisle that Friday for her mother's summer home in northern Pennsylvania but stayed away only a day. They were among approximately 200,000 who left their homes, some for days or weeks.

    Looking back on the accident now, Seller said, she remembers feeling angry.

    "A meltdown could have made that valuable, beautiful countryside uninhabitable for years and I couldn't understand how that could be allowed," she said. "It didn't feel healthy to be there and I still don't feel good about it.

    "It certainly isn't Chernobyl," Seller said, referring to the fatal nuclear plant accident in 1986 near Kiev, Ukraine. "But I still think the nuclear industry is problematic because no one has figured a good thing to do with the nuclear waste."

    A complicated occurrence

    Across the road from TMI, a stone's throw from the digital radiation monitor, is a blue and yellow highway marker erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1999, the accident's 20th anniversary, that attributes the accident to "technical malfunctions and human error."

    But the real causes were more complicated. And today, questions persist about the true cause of the malfunction, how it was handled and what health effects it caused.

    TMI Unit 1 was brought "on line" by General Public Utilities Nuclear and its plant operator, Metropolitan Edison, in September 1974. The controlled nuclear reaction created heat to boil water that produced steam to turn a turbine which began producing electric power.

    TMI Unit 2 came on line in December 1978, behind schedule and grossly over budget. It had been operating for 90 days when the accident occurred.

    According to an official Nuclear Regulatory Commission report released earlier this month to mark the anniversary, a malfunctioning pressure relief valve in the reactor's cooling system caused a loss of coolant and the core to overheat. The intense heat -- the core temperature rose to well over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit -- damaged the reactor and collapsed its 177 fuel rods into a mass of debris and twisted sticks.

    At least 15 million curies of radiation was released into the atmosphere, according to the NRC, but some independent investigators put the radiation releases three to six times higher.

    NRC Chairman Nils Diaz, speaking at the March 3 NRC meeting, said the accident was preventable if plant procedures had been followed.

    "That these measures were not taken has less to do with the technology than with human error driven by a lack of understanding," Diaz said, "or, at times, a profound misunderstanding of what was taking place in the core in the first few hours of the accident."

    What Diaz and the NRC didn't say, according to Three Mile Island Alert, a Middletown-based anti-nuclear organization that opposed construction of the nuclear plants, is that Metropolitan Edison plant operators had been falsifying reactor leak rates to the NRC for weeks before the accident. Because of that practice, they had learned to ignore the most obvious sign that the valve had stuck open and coolant was being lost.

    If the leak rate had been properly reported or NRC inspectors had found it, according to the organization, the Babcock & Wilcox-designed plant would have been shut down for repairs and there would have been no accident that day.

    "It was an historical crime," said Eric Epstein, a Holocaust historian and chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, "and we're in a battle now over memory."

    Preserving that memory are federal court records that show Metropolitan Edison struck a plea bargain with the Department of Justice in February 1984 to settle the leak rate falsification case. The utility pleaded guilty to one count and no contest to six others in an 11-count indictment. It was fined $45,000 and required to establish a $1 million fund to assist the state Emergency Management Agency in formulating an emergency preparedness plan for a 20-mile zone around the plant.

    "The community was held hostage and we all experienced psychological terrorism," Epstein said. "No one who lived through it will ever be the same. We find ways to deal with it. The cooling towers are in our back yard where we live, marry, parent and work. They still cast a shadow."

    A lot of radiation, or a little?

    A person standing at the radiation monitor across the road from TMI and within the cooling towers' shadows when the accident occurred would have been exposed to less than 100 millirem of radiation, according to the NRC, about the same as the average, annual, natural background dose for residents of the Central Pennsylvania region.

    Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
    Physicist Priscilla Laws and one of her colleagues gave twice-daily briefings at Dickinson College, updating students and faculty on radiation readings during the days after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on March 28, 1979.
    Click photo for larger image.

    The NRC, citing detailed state, federal and independent studies, estimates the average radiation dose to about 2 million people in the area around the accident was about 1 millirem. By comparison, the exposure during a set of chest X-rays is about 6 millirem.

    Most of the radiation produced by the accident was contained, the NRC and industry have said, and the radiation exposure caused no detrimental health effects.

    But a new analysis of health statistics in the region has found that the death rates for infants, children and the elderly soared in the first two years after the accident in Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties.

    The study released last week by the Radiation and Public Health Project, found the infant mortality rate for Dauphin County, where TMI is situated, increased by 47 percent, from 81 to 119 deaths.

    "These data suggest strongly that the 1979 meltdown immediately harmed the local population, especially the youngest and very elderly, who are most vulnerable to the toxic effects of radiation," said Joseph Mangano, national coordinator for the nonprofit educational and scientific organization formed to reach a better understanding about the effects of low-level radiation on public health.

    Mangano said the long-term health of the region's residents also was affected by the accident. Cancer death rates among children younger than 10 years old in the downwind counties were 24 percent below the U.S. rate in the 1970s, before the accident, but have been 30 percent higher since.

    Priscilla Laws, a 39-year-old physicist at Dickinson in 1979, took soil and air radiation samples around Carlisle and across the river from TMI in the days after the accident, and gave twice daily briefings on the findings. Her work, along with that of her fellow physicist, John Luetzelschwab, is credited with keeping students, fellow faculty members and Carlisle residents from panicking.

    In an interview with Malmsheimer done in the weeks after the accident, she said she was worried about a meltdown, but convinced that the radiation releases were not dangerous. Today, she still feels that way.

    But Laws, now 64, says the risk posed by the accident was not exaggerated.

    "After the initial radiation release, everyone living near the plant left. All we saw was two state troopers stationed to deter looters. It was like a ghost town, very weird," she said.

    "We know in retrospect that there was a partial meltdown that did have the potential for an explosion in the containment building. That building is so contaminated they gave up on cleaning it up. We've given future generations a big problem because we wanted cheap energy now."

    Malmsheimer, who conducted numerous interviews in the weeks after the accident and was interviewed herself, said the people in Carlisle felt a lot safer than those who lived closer to TMI.

    Radio was the communications media of choice. Newspapers weren't fast enough in getting out the breaking news, she said, and television stations were sensationalizing the situation.

    Malmsheimer said the oral history project sought to document how people responded to a crisis they didn't know enough about.

    "Some used humor, some religion. It differed by age, with people who had lived through World War II thinking about bombs and radiation releases like they saw in Japan. And there was great sadness and concern about whether the area here would become uninhabitable."

    She said women were more worried about their children and less trustful than men of the company's explanations about the accident. Many people didn't understand the risk and weren't happy with the way the company handled the crisis.

    "Radiation is invisible and they didn't know if they were exposed," she said. "People learned mistrust of government and industry. They changed. ... Even very conservative people around here are skeptical of nuclear power now."

    TMI Unit 2 was drained of its fuel and contaminated water in the early 1990s. It will not be decommissioned until TMI Unit 1 is shut down. The Unit 1 reactor was restarted in 1985 and is licensed to operate through April 2014.

    "Is it safe? I don't have the information to make that judgment," Malmsheimer said. "I haven't moved."
  2. 2 blaazed

    2 blaazed New Jack

    Joined: Jun 28, 2002 Messages: 0 Likes Received: 3