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Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island Alert l 12 march, 2011
The crippled Fukushima reactor is a grim reminder of the Three Mile Island crisis. It has some common technical and safety aspects, and brings to mind broken promises by the industry to resolve open safety issues. The Japanese crisis certainly demonstrates the propensity for obfuscation by the industry while the public is left sifting through hundreds of media reports.
The first indication that the Fukushima reactor was in serious trouble came from reports that the Japanese military was flying batteries to the plant. This clue made it clear that the operators were having more problems than just trouble with circulating reactor coolant. It revealed that the operators were losing or had lost electrical control of the reactor systems and that the emergency diesel generators were not working. But the Japanese government and the industry continued to downplay the dire conditions facing them.
This same pattern of denial happened here at Three Mile Island leaving the citizens and their governor bewildered and confused. In fact, radioactive releases at TMI are presently being reported as a miniscule amount of radiation. At least 13 million curies of radiation were released. So it is easy to see how the Japanese crisis brings back various details of the TMI crisis.
Here are some of the similarities and differences:
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It was April Fool's Day, 1979 -- 30 years ago this week -- when Randall Thompson first set foot inside the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pa. Just four days earlier, in the early morning hours of March 28, a relatively minor problem in the plant's Unit 2 reactor sparked a series of mishaps that led to the meltdown of almost half the uranium fuel and uncontrolled releases of radiation into the air and surrounding Susquehanna River.
It was the single worst disaster ever to befall the U.S. nuclear power industry, and Thompson was hired as a health physics technician to go inside the plant and find out how dangerous the situation was. He spent 28 days monitoring radiation releases.
Today, his story about what he witnessed at Three Mile Island is being brought to the public in detail for the first time -- and his version of what happened during that time, supported by a growing body of other scientific evidence, contradicts the official U.S. government story that the Three Mile Island accident posed no threat to the public.
"What happened at TMI was a whole lot worse than what has been reported," Randall Thompson told Facing South. "Hundreds of times worse."