Three Mile Island - 35 years on
Thirty-five years ago today the USA had its worst ever civilian nuclear accident with a reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island. Linda Pentz Gunter reports on the lies and cover ups about the true scale of the radiation release and its impacts on human health.
Today marks 35 years since the meltdown at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Despite the long passage of time, myths and misinformation about the disaster still abound. Many questions may remain permanently unanswered.
The consequences of the TMI disaster were made more serious because, early on, emergency planning officials were repeatedly misinformed about the disaster's progression and kept in the dark about the need for public protective actions.
Ironically, despite today's popular 'too much information' shorthand, TMI is a story of 'too little information'. What the public believes about TMI is far removed from what really happened.
'No one died'
The often repeated nuclear industry line - that"no one died at Three Mile Island" - does not stand the test of fundamental medical scrutiny.
Yet, 35 years later, we are hearing it again, put about by nuclear deniers who also claim that the Chernobyl nuclear explosion harmed a mere handful and that the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan will yield no fatalities.
Given what we know about exposure to radiation, it is medically far more probable that there were multiple fatalities as a result of TMI, as well as non-fatal cancers and other illnesses.
The numbers will be orders of magnitude higher as a result of the even more serious Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes. There are other prematurely fatal outcomes too, triggered by stress, dislocation and abandonment. None of these should be callously discounted.
A 2-10 times increase in cancer incidence downwind
The two TMI studies - by Columbia and Pittsburgh Universities - that have perpetuated the 'no harm' myth, were conducted under the constraints of a court order that significantly compromised the study findings.
The only independent study, by Dr. Stephen Wing et al., found that lung cancer and leukemia rates were two to 10 times higher downwind of the destroyed Three Mile Island reactor than upwind.
This supports the premise that far more radiation escaped from TMI than has been acknowledged by the authorities.
Within hours of the beginning of the nuclear disaster, onsite radiation monitors went off scale and were shut down because radiation levels exceeded their measurement capacity.
Read more from our affiliate, Ecologist.
Three Mile Island image via Shutterstock.