Three Mile Island


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America’s worst accident at a civilian nuclear power plant occurred on March 28, 1979. Unbeknown to anyone, half the fuel melted in one of two nuclear reactors on Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pa. Large quantities of radioactivity leaked from the reactor, but most of it was contained. In all probability, no one received a harmful amount of radiation. The enormous damage to the reactor was revealed only years later when TV cameras and a specially developed ultrasonic, sonar-like imaging system looked inside the reactor vessel.

The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss of coolant accident due to inadequate training and human error. The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of five days, as employees of Metropolitan Edison, Pennsylvania state officials, and members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decide whether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis.


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