News / USA

Three Mile Island, 32 Years Later

The decommissioned Reactor Number 2 at Three Mile Island nuclear plant, Middletown, Pennsylvania
The decommissioned Reactor Number 2 at Three Mile Island nuclear plant, Middletown, Pennsylvania

Multimedia

March 28 marks the 32nd anniversary of the United States' worst nuclear accident.  The reactor at Three Mile Island in central Pennsylvania experienced a near meltdown.  Although not nearly the tragedy of Chernobyl in Ukraine, or Fukushima in Japan, Three Mile Island caused a three-decade pause in nuclear energy advancement in the U.S. and a review of nuclear plant policies nationwide.

Beyond the hills of Middletown, Pennsylvania, an eerie sight rises through the haze.  Four nuclear cooling towers.  And a reactor that caused the worst nuclear accident in the United States.  Reactor Number 2 at Three Mile Island.

Rosalie Taylor was raising two boys in Middletown when she learned radiation may have leaked out of the plant.  Safety officials told residents to stay inside.

"You just sat in your house with everything closed and wondering if there was going to be a meltdown or not," recalled Taylor.   

At first, then-Governor Dick Thornburgh said no.  But the next day, he recommended the evacuation of pregnant women and small children.  Now 32 years later, he said "We didn’t want to undertake an evacuation unnecessarily and we were constantly assessing the info [information] we had to see if it was necessary." 

More than 120,000 people evacuated.

"It's a funny sensation to not know if you are going to come back to your home," noted Taylor.  "I had to take a few things that were important to me.  And those few things are the two albums you saw of my sons.  And, birth certificates."

Dentist Sam Selcher still works out of the same office as he did in 1979.  Rather than evacuating, he stayed to handle emergencies.  

"All of my employees live within a 5-mile radius of Three Mile Island," said Selcher.  "I told them to wear their film badges 24 hours a day and keep it with them wherever they were."

The devices showed no radiation exposure.  Four days after the incident, President Jimmy Carter arrived.

"I think people really and simply said, 'If it's safe enough for the president and the governor to walk around in that plant it must be pretty safe," added Thornburgh.

Two days later, the incident was over.  The containment structure worked. Most of the radiation did not escape.  Years later, scientists determined that a jammed valve had caused cooling water to drain from the reactor core.

Ralph DeSantis is with the power company that runs Three Mile Island. "With that water coming out, about half the fuel core became uncovered and that's where the partial meltdown occurred," DeSantis explained.

Investigators blamed the accident on equipment malfunction, human error and lack of training.  Because of Three Mile Island, every U.S. nuclear power plant must now have a control room simulator, designed to be an exact replica of the nerve center in the plant.

The simulators feature alarm panels that are prioritized by color and sound - so operators know which alarms to respond to first.  Unlike 1979, when 400 different alarms blared, overwhelming operators.

"As a result of Three Mile Island, both our regulator [the NRC] and the industry looked in the mirror and said, 'We need to improve our operator training.  We need to improve our emergency response capability,'" said Tony Pietrangelo with the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Three MiIe Island temporarily stalled the growth of nuclear energy in the United States.  It would be 30 years before the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would even review an application for a new power plant.  Reactor 2 at Three Mile Island was permanently shut down, but Reactor 1 and its cooling towers continue to operate.


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid