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Three Mile Island  (Source: Ohio Citizen)
If anything, minor mishap illustrates the extreme safety of well-maintained reactors

There's a double irony in the weekend's reports of a nuclear "radiation leak" at Three Mile Island.  The first irony is that anti-nuclear advocates seized so quickly on the news to advocate disallowing future reactor construction, when modern reactor designs would actually be much safer to our country than our current older designs.  The second irony is that now that the actual details of the overblown accident have surfaced, it is clear that the incident is actually evidence of the exemplary advances in safety of our nation's nuclear systems.

News of the leak at Three Mile Island during routine refueling, maintenance and steam generator replacement broke via a Nuclear Regulatory Commission announcement on Sunday.  The incident occurred at approximately 4:00 pm Saturday (2100 GMT) at the containment building of Unit 1, the active reactor that's adjacent to Unit 2, the site of the infamous March 1979 partial meltdown, our nation's closest flirtation with a serious nuclear mishap.

While the Unit 2 meltdown led to no deaths or injuries, it nonetheless remained a sensitive spot for our nation, particularly when Russia's mismanaged and poorly designed Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant leaked in 1986, leading to 56 direct deaths and many more attributable by cancer.   Thus perhaps it is understandable why the AFP's statement on the accident was slightly tense, describing:

"It's a minor incident," [NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci]  said stressing it was "under control."
Three Mile Island suffered a major accident in 1979, with the core of a reactor partially melting down.
Since then no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States.

Others showed less far less disinclination from sensationalize.  ABC News 6 of the Philadelphia area wrote, "They were wearing protective suits, but about 100 were still contaminated."

The article, now edited to remove the alarmist claims can be found here, while the original text can be found displayed here.  Many other articles and forum posting across the internet conveyed a similar confusing and garbled story, often biased by antinuclear attitudes.

Now the facts have come out, and it appears that the "accident" was really much ado about nothing and that only a handful of employees (about 20, not 100) were exposed to any radiation at all.  One of the site's many highly sensitive nuclear sensors was triggered, sounding an alarm.  The plant's 150 employees that were on site were removed, the area was cleaned and work recommenced.  One employee received an extra 16 millirems of radiation -- about the equivalent of three X-Rays (an average plant employee receives about 2,000 millirems a year, below the federal guidelines of 5,000 millirems, but slightly more than the average background dose of 240 millirems).  And that was the worst that happened.

The area is now safe yet again and workers have resumed the maintenance on the plant, readying it to produce clean, alternative energy at a reasonable price.  There was no threat to public health, and virtually no threat to employees.

FirstEnergy, which runs the plant; the NRC staff; and the maintenance workers certainly deserve praise for their vigilance and diligent response to the incident.  However, the incident if anything offers one more example of the high degree of safety at the U.S. nuclear power plants.  And if anything it offers a compelling argument of why safer, more-efficient modern reactor designs seem like a great idea for our country's green power needs. 

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Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By Redwin on 11/23/2009 11:32:32 AM , Rating: 5
The fact that we haven't built a new nuclear plant in 30 years is quite sad, and evidence of fear mongering over rationality.

Modern reactor designs are so good, it can more or less be said they can't melt down. Older reactors (like the one at 3-mile) can naturally be super critical, and we introduce control rods to slow them down to safe operating levels.. so in theory a problem with a control rod can cause a meltdown.

New reactors are designed so they are naturally sub critical and material must be introduced to bring them up to criticality; but enough material to go super critical and metldown is never inside the reactor, so no accident no matter how bad can result in a metldown.. a problem with the reactor simply results in it cooling off and stopping electricity generation until it repaired. Unfortunately, we've never built any reactors like this, because America is so anti-nuclear.

I wish the people yelling about energy independence and carbon-neutral power would realize nuclear is by far the safest and most realistic way to achieve those goals.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By Scabies on 11/23/2009 2:04:29 PM , Rating: 5
design, training, contingency...
none of this matters when you are talking (read: arguing) with people that reflexively flip out about anything nuclear.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By HaZaRd2K6 on 11/24/2009 12:16:10 AM , Rating: 3
The worst part is that saying the word "nuclear" immediately makes those same people think "Hiroshima" or "Nagasaki" without realizing that it is actually impossible for a modern reactor to become super-critical. Modern reactors are designed to make it impossible to become super-critical.

Yeesh. Wake up, people! Nuclear is probably the best bet for most of the world's power production in the near future; it can deliver massive power output with relatively little space (especially compared to "green" alternatives like solar or wind) and the waste by-products are nothing compared to the amount of carbon released during the life-cycle of a wind or solar farm.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By karielash on 11/24/09, Rating: -1
RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By BBeltrami on 11/24/2009 10:46:55 AM , Rating: 3
They call that, "Government".

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By HaZaRd2K6 on 11/26/2009 8:48:04 PM , Rating: 1

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By wakjob on 11/26/2009 4:06:39 PM , Rating: 2
Impossible? What if a saboteur and the plant turns off the saftey systems like they did at Chernobyl? What about if we have a war and someone bombs the plant? Impossible? I don't think so.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By Fallen Kell on 12/1/2009 12:48:09 PM , Rating: 2
In the new plant designs, yes, impossible. There is simply not enough material in the new designs for them to reach critical mass (note those words critical mass, as there is a hard limit in terms of mass of material that is needed for a reaction to go on its own, which is why that value is called "critical mass"). You would have to take over multiple plants, shutdown the reaction currently going on, wait several weeks for the reactor to cool enough for humans to go in and handle the reactor material, remove part of the reactor, then take over another plant, and introduce the material into that reactor.... Pretty darn far fetched if you ask me that a group would be able to take over and hold a plant for a day, let alone weeks. If you don't already know, all plants have defences built in already and do drills and response scenarios with law enforcement and the military in event of an attack on the plant. A terrorist group has a better chance getting nuclear material from a hospital to make a "dirty bomb" then they do from a nuclear plant...

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By wakjob on 11/26/2009 4:08:29 PM , Rating: 2
"Carbon" doesn't kill people like plutonium does. Plants are made of Carbon. Maybe we should stop growing them and eating them in order to "save the earth". LOL. Global warming in a fraud and a fad. Like the 70s, 10 years from now everyone will be looking back on this global warming bunk and laughing.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By SavagePotato on 11/23/2009 6:38:33 PM , Rating: 3
Even though nothing significant happened, it will still no doubt be used to great effect to hinder nuclear power, in effect the damage is done, and no amount of reason and logic in explaining what actually happened will be likely to undo it.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By AmishElvis on 11/24/2009 12:05:22 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. To put this in perspective, in the US, 16 people died this year due to coal mining accidents. For the last 14 years, that number is 447. (

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By Dorkyman on 11/25/2009 12:13:15 PM , Rating: 2
Amazed at the effect "China Syndrome" had on the American mind.

Nukes are a great technology and an obvious solution to the issues of the day, but the typical American reacts by running away, screaming. They get precisely what they deserve.

RE: Sigh @ Anti-Nuke Crowd
By ZachDontScare on 12/1/2009 2:31:47 PM , Rating: 2
Absolutely. That movie single handedly destroyed the nuclear power industry. With an assist going to the American education system. After all, it takes two to tango... the movie has to be made, and then people have to be dumb enough to believe it.

Yet whenever I point out to people how much tv/movies impacts their viewpoints, I'm shot down.

By guacamojo on 11/23/2009 11:24:12 AM , Rating: 3
Why is a story about radiation prefaced with a biohazard symbol?

RE: Biohazard?
By VaultDweller on 11/23/2009 11:30:39 AM , Rating: 2
Looks like he went and fixed it on ya.

RE: Biohazard?
By oab on 11/23/09, Rating: -1
RE: Biohazard?
By Griswold on 11/23/09, Rating: 0
RE: Biohazard?
RE: Biohazard?
By mattclary on 11/23/2009 11:32:44 AM , Rating: 2
Looks like the article had already been edited...

By Spivonious on 11/23/2009 11:33:32 AM , Rating: 3
I live less than 40 minutes from TMI and this is the first I heard of this. If that doesn't prove how unimportant this event was, I don't know what does.

RE: Non-news
By FITCamaro on 11/24/2009 6:56:53 AM , Rating: 2
Lol. Nice.

I mean....clearly this is the work of the vast right wing conspiracy covering this up....

RE: Non-news
By Spivonious on 11/24/2009 4:58:22 PM , Rating: 2
Just saw something else. FirstEnergy doesn't run the plant, Exelon does.

"Mostly Overblown"
By Whaaambulance on 11/23/2009 1:09:05 PM , Rating: 3 the majority of Mick's stories.

RE: "Mostly Overblown"
By GaryJohnson on 11/25/2009 10:47:53 AM , Rating: 2
The pot calling the kettle black.

Some facts
By blowfish on 11/27/2009 3:10:05 PM , Rating: 3
Much of the waste from nuclear power stations has a half life of over 20,000years. Some has a half life of 246,000 years.

The pyramids are about two or three thousand years old.

(and maybe the earth is only a few thousand years old too if you're a creationist!)

No man-made machine is completely reliable. Talk of reactors designed so as to make it impossible for them to go critical sounds just like the "unsinkable" claims for the Titanic when it was launched.

The technology used at Chernobyl wasn't really the problem, it was the human input.

Not one single nuclear power station has ever been built anywhere in the world without some form of government subsidy or assistance. In the US, that comes in the form of legislation to limit damages claims to something like $650M in the event of an incident. Imagine how far that wouldn't go these days.

If the real costs of insuring against accidents had to be borne, along with the costs of actual waste disposal and eventual decomissioning of the facility, there would not be a single nuclear power plant in existance.

The long term solution to dealing with the waste has yet to be solved. With all today's high tech, the best that they seem to be able to come up with is to stick it in a big hole.

There is a whole lot more radiation tied up in the waste around an average nuclear power station than was produced by any single nuclear weapon, including neutron bombs. There would be a serious problem if an adversary used conventional bombs on a waste lagoon.

At least the US is big enough to stand a few mishaps. By contrast, densely populated countries such as the UK, now with an unelected leader seemingly hell-bent on building more nuclear power stations, could be seriously compromised by just a single major incident.

The biggest valid argument against the use of nuclear (fission) power is that waste products are produced that will have to be dealt with not by this generation but by countless generations to come. Despite the undoubtedly greater numbers of mortalities arising from coal production, history will show fossil fuel use as just a quick blip, whereas there will be long lasting consequences arising from nuclear power production.

Minor Mishap
By LeBeourfCurtaine on 11/25/2009 8:18:54 AM , Rating: 2
Others showed less far less disinclination from sensationalize.

Are you sure that this 'mishap' is under control..? Reads like something made it into the water supply :p

By driver01z on 11/25/2009 2:05:36 PM , Rating: 2
"One employee received an extra 16 millirems of radiation"

Yeah, thankfully that's not enough to decrease your Endurance stat...

Sorry, had to.

I has to wonder...
By TheEinstein on 11/25/2009 7:46:36 PM , Rating: 2
These environmentalists... Do they get Cat Scans, MRI's, or *gasp* X-Rays done?

Perhaps environmentalists are dragging down our cancer survival rate as well...

"What do you mean radiation therapy, YOU MURDERER YOU!"

or perhaps...

"Cancer? Ewww... Radiation therapy? No thanks, I will smoke some Ganga and douse myself with incense... my chakra will reinstate and the cancer will leave my body. You know that Radiation therapy ruins your karma and Chakra... right?"

then there is...

"Dude cancer? So like I never expected to live long anyways. Radiation? Dude thats like mondo bad dude, no way."

One has to wonder...

By blueboy09 on 11/26/2009 1:57:15 PM , Rating: 2
My aunt had a good point in regards to this: "Who are we to believe cause the media could be telling the truth while Three Mile MIGHT be covering up the truth. The media likes to blow topics such as this out of proportion and distorts it, but could there be more than what the media is saying?" I mean really, who is telling the truth, and who is lying? If you ask me, someone doesn't want somebody talking if you ask me. - BLUEBOY

Nice job Obama!!
By rika13 on 11/28/2009 3:18:31 PM , Rating: 2
During is Senate term he heavily watered down his own bill that at first would have required ALL radioactive discharges to be reported, to only those which are in violation of EPA regulations. Excelon was one of his biggest contributors at the time and is the current owner (acquired in 2003) of 3 Mile Island, famous for having a meltdown (was a litany of faults, mechanical, human, and even human-machine interface) in reactor 2. In Obama's "native" Illinois, Excelon owns all nuclear power plants, including the Clinton Power Plant which achieved infamy repeatedly shut down for safety concerns early in it's life.

By ocqeha on 11/29/2009 7:10:06 PM , Rating: 2
The US currently does build Nuclear Power Plants but it is for military purposes, for the Navy. Both Aircraft Carriers and Submarines require nuclear power plants. The first nuclear Aircraft, carrier having 8 plants, while current Carriers have 2, based on designs at least 40 years old. Every time a new submarine or aircraft carrier is built, so are new power plants. These ships and boats pull into ports all over the world. As many as 3 aircraft carriers can be seen at the San Diego Base from across downtown, that's 6 power plants within a few football fields of each other. Nuclear power is safe and a hell of a lot cleaner than coal power plants. In fact coal plants release more radiation to the environment than nuclear plants. There are uranium particles in coal ash that is released freely into the environment, whereas all radioactive waste from nuclear plants are controlled and not released freely into the environment.

Nuke power forever!
By ol1bit on 12/1/2009 1:03:21 AM , Rating: 2
Load me up!

I want reactor's everywhere! Can a recycle place, to recycle waste like France does! Cut's down on the the waste.


Greatest nation... bah... I was born in 1965, and we were so strong and heading fowards, what 44 years does... Sigh.

Stupid Alarmists
By AssBall on 11/23/09, Rating: 0
By wakjob on 11/26/09, Rating: 0
By ScottP79 on 11/23/09, Rating: -1
By RedStar on 11/24/2009 2:14:40 AM , Rating: 1
I was also dumbfounded by the chernobyl "leak" comment also. Seriously LoL!!

When the Candu reactors went live, it was purported to be better, safe, cleaner, cost-effective technology than that of the US or Russia. No worries at all. Unlimited power.

As usual, practical application of such tech as showed this is simply not the case. The reactors life spans have been halved,costs tripled, heavy water leaks and cracked fuel rods have been a pox. Nuclear waste is still stored on-site in water tanks just waiting for a solution.

Here we are again, oh but these new reactors will be the solution to all our problems.

When someone promises you the rainbow, one should rightfully be wary.

By FITCamaro on 11/24/2009 7:05:44 AM , Rating: 1
Yet I'm betting you voted for Obama.

And as far as the waste sitting in tanks, I seem to recall this large storage facility being built to store all that waste in. Oh right, Obama closed it (laying off hundreds of engineers in the process) saying we're going to reprocess waste. Yeah I see that happening any time in the near future. I guess that's after health care, cap and tax, and amnesty right?

Even if we were going to reprocess waste, wouldn't it be a better idea to go ahead and use this giant, secure mountain facility that's already built?

And France seems to be doing just fine with 90% nuclear power, no waste problems, no terrorists getting their hands on weapons grade nuclear material from reprocessing, and no melt downs. Just clean, cheap power. But we in America can't do it? Right....

By randomly on 11/24/2009 6:27:49 PM , Rating: 4
Obama had nothing to do with the shutdown of Yucca Mountain. The shutdown of Yucca Mountain repository was already in the works before Obama was elected. He is not responsible for that one. It's mostly due to increased political power of the Senators from Nevada in the related committees.

Unfortunately we still need a geologic repository for spent fuel, no matter if you reprocess the waste or not. Reprocessing and transmutation can however reduce the amount of waste and it's lifespan by orders of magnitude, but the technology needs to be developed to the point where it can be deployed. Public sentiment and politics currently don't supply enough political will to move forward on that front in a serious manner.

Spent fuel must sit around in pools of water for years anyway till the decay heat diminishes to the point where it can be removed and put into dry cask storage. The capacity of geologic storage (Yucca Mountain) is limited by the radioactive decay heat of the spent fuel, not by the volume of the fuel.

France generates about 80% of it's electrical power from nuclear, but there are caveats. That's actually only about 13% of it's total energy budget. Also nuclear power is baseload power, France sells surplus onto the European grid but then buys back peak power from mostly hydrocarbon generated power from other countries. France's spent fuel reprocessing program although technically very successful is an economic failure. Nuclear is not a panacea. It does have great potential though.

With the modern Gen III+ and Gen IV reactor designs we will not see another Chernobyl disaster. Although TMI and Chernobyl did terrible damage to the image of nuclear power in the public's mind the resulting extreme safety consciousness it created in the nuclear industry has resulted in designs that are vastly safer and more fault tolerant than previous reactor designs. Many of the designs are passively safe, even under total loss of power, coolant losses etc. the reactor won't run out of control or melt down.

Nuclear power is neither some horribly dangerous evil nor a panacea for all our energy needs. It is a complex subject though and very few people have the time or training to actually understand it in sufficient detail to reach their own conclusions. The vast majority just assimilate someone else's opinion on the subject. Unfortunately this means world opinion ends up being mostly a marketing war between different ideological camps and decisions are not based on rational analysis.

I for one think nuclear power has great potential, but it clearly needs some serious focus, effort, and money be spent on developing reactor technologies, material research,waste reprocessing, transmutation, and disposal. All with an emphasis on safety and economics.

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