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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.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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