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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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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.

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