Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island is a nuclear power plant located on the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The plant was made up of two linked facilities referred to as units, both of which came online in the mid 1970s. On March 28th 1979 Unit Two underwent a partial melt-down in what became the most famous nuclear accident to occur on US soil. Despite the impact of the radiation being difficult to discern, the accident has had a lasting impression on the perception of nuclear power in the U.S. It is active to this day.
Backstory and Context
On Mach 28th 1979 an accident occurred in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island facility. The incident was induced by a valve blockage. This malfunction, usually easily fixed, was compounded by operator misunderstandings of the indicator lights. This caused the problem to be undetected for many hours, resulting in a partial meltdown in the core and causing the release of radioactive material. (Walker, 73-76). This resulted in a site emergency being declared and the governor of Pennsylvania and numerous agencies being alerted. Despite assurances that the incident was under control almost half of the 663,000 residents in the area chose to evacuate. (Cooke, 294)
Response to the incident from state agencies was swift, locking off the plant and ensuring no more radioactive material was released. The EPA also began monitoring radiation levels within hours of the incident. The total amount of radiation released was minimal, being comparable to a chest X-ray for those in the surrounding area . Plant staff and government responders closed down Unit Two. It was later decommissioned and parts of it sent to other nuclear plants after being inspected for quality (Walker, 190-219).While there was panic at the time, some view the response as entirely appropriate and claim that such small-scale incidents are a necessary part of establishing new technology (Perrow, 45).
Despite the relative mildness of the incident, it was cited by anti-nuclear activists throughout the U.S. as proof of the danger of nuclear power. As a result President Jimmy Carter, an ardent supporter of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, was forced by political pressure to reduce his advocacy efforts (Luther, 154). Since the Three Mile Island incident the number of nuclear reactors built and maintained in the U.S. has declined considerably and public perception of nuclear power remains negative. Its impact on the perception and implementation of nuclear power policy is still being felt today.(http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/three-mile-island-and-the-china-syndrome.html)