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
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.