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December 17, 2017

How The U.S. Can Learn From The Three Mile Island Disaster

On March 28 1979, a nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, failed. The reactors failure led to massive debate among U.S. government officials and vastly changed the climate for nuclear power in North America. For several decades, post-1979, fewer than one nuclear reactor was approved for construction and a promising source of energy nearly died out in every U.S. state.

Three Mile Island

Though no hard details could be found, one researcher suggested that as a result of radiation pollution near Three Mile Island, some three hundred plus residents contracted fatal cancers, which is believed to be from nuclear radiation and related cell mutation. Though, notwithstanding potential human life lost, a large portion of the state of Pennsylvania spent decades bathed in levels of radiation that one source quoted as being roughly the amount a person experiences for a medical X-ray.

Regardless of the seemingly small casualties (no deaths reported, but many claimed as dependent on the accident), awareness of the dangers of nuclear energy greatly reshaped the American landscape for an otherwise clean source of energy. Many today wish to see nuclear power reinstated in safe and functional ways throughout the U.S.A. as a combatant against rampant fossil fuel waste and constant ecological destruction for the drilling of natural gas pads, oil pads, etc.

How The U.S. Can Learn From The Three Mile Island Disaster

Having a clear history of the implications of Three Mile Island will lead America to responsible decisions in the future. If the government of the United States is willing to take necessary precautions, all versions of energy needed to support the nation will be reliable sources to draw from. So, what are the factors that led to the Three Mile Island disaster and how can those factors be avoided in the future?

Three Mile Island

By assessing historical data the rise and eventual fall of nuclear industry in the U.S.A. becomes clear. All reactors have well-documented histories. This includes the initiation of projects (e.g. approximations by permit approval date), the date of completion and/or cancellation and, in some cases, the year of the reactor was shutdown. Nuclear power plant data explains the cost increase that some plants experienced after Three Mile Island. Some plants, under construction at the time, were forced to delay construction times. Many of these trends however, were already progressing before the incident at Three Mile Island. Plant costs rose while completion rates slowed in the late 1970s. Most historians can claim that the partial meltdown at the nuclear plant may have worsened and hastened these progressive trends.

For example, new plans for the development of nuclear reactors had dropped off prior to 1979. The history of reactor starts, completions or cancellations, and that of shutdowns can be placed in perspective by noting that in 1974 more than fifty projects were started for that year alone. By 1978, the year prior to the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, only two reactors were in operation and zero new reactors had been initiated for development.

While rapid expansion of reactor orders marked the early 1970s, the additions to the order book had clearly peaked by about 1974, long before the Pennsylvania accident. ’74 also marked the period of American utilities not only cutting back but also cancelling entire reactor orders, even overriding and stopping existing orders in progress. Both trends, decline and cancellation, indicate how utilities companies began reconsidering their rapid expansion plans with nuclear energy alternative, though the trends do not elucidate the reasons behind such decisions. Perhaps nuclear power became a liability, or more for futility, the expectations for rapid expansion demanded simply did not materialize. The pattern of reactor completions post 1979 shows a slowdown before 1979 with slow and temporary incline thereafter. This interpretation of the data is consistent with some late-stage construction of reactors as contractors reevaluated their market and the projects at hand.

Within two years before and after Pennsylvania’s, Three Mile Island accident, over half the reactors ordered were canceled. To illustrate: forty percent of these cancellations occurred before the accident, which is to say, the hesitance regarding nuclear power existed before the local evidence bore out the facts that nuclear industry included great dangers and major potential for blow-back.

Three Mile Island

One key factor affecting the cost of reactors was the duration of construction. The U.S.A.s own early work illustrated how reactors under construction between the years of 1966 and 1972 would take a minimum of four years for completion. Post 1973, minimum duration for completion rose rapidly: more than eight years for those which ground broke between 1974 and 1976. In addition, construction completion timetables varied during that period. Some seventy-five percent of reactors took between ten and fifteen years to complete. The longer-term reactors had been under construction for years prior to the Three Mile Island disaster. Of the reactors activated immediately within a year front or back of the accident some had advantages over others whose construction was closer to completion, namely that modifications in design demanded in response to the accident were easier to implement.

Today, as America undergoes a second nuclear power revolution, we must look on the history of our power malfunctions. Willingness to implement measures above and beyond what may be deemed “safe” will ensure that a highly efficient, (and if used properly) clean, source of power fuels American cities across the continent. With the history of numerous fail-safe reactors melting down, we are positioned to bring greater protective measures to new projects issued in the future. As in the 1960s, we today are positioned to make full use of long-lasting, powerful energy supplies and the benefits, if used properly weigh greatly on a society that is rapidly expanding to unsustainable numbers.

Some research suggests that with current population growth and current energy supplies, if no new sources of energy are utilized, the U.S.A. will experience mass power failure by the middle of the 2020s. Well-used, safely implemented nuclear energy provided from technologically advanced reactors could prevent this outcome and ensure many decades of cleaner consumption and population growth amid the energy demands. Remembering the lessons of Three Mile Island will prepare us for the energy future.

Three Mile Island

How The U.S. Can Learn From The Three Mile Island Disaster

How The U.S. Can Learn From The Three Mile Island Disaster