Another Three Mile Island


‘Nobody at Three Mile Island was actually hurt or killed, or anything of that nature,” remembers John McGaha, formerly a senior executive of Entergy, a Mississippi company that runs and operates nuclear utilities. “Versus if you look at some of the oil and chemical explosions we’ve had over the years . . . ”

McGaha and other experts tell NRO that Americans are unduly afraid of nuclear energy — in part because of the media’s disproportionate, distorted reporting on rare nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island and the recent problems in Japan. McGaha says the most deadly consequence of Three Mile Island might have been how it delayed the advancement of nuclear technology in the U.S.

Yes, officially, one or two incidents of cancer have been attributed to Three Mile Island. But even with those, there’s no way to know for sure. All of us have “a 16 percent lifetime chance of contracting cancer,” says Robert Henkin, professor emeritus of radiology at Loyola University in Chicago. So, he asks, “If that goes to 16.1 percent, how do you ever pick that out?” We can’t be certain there was any harm at all.

And yet the panic at the time outdid the current panic over the Fukushima reactors. “Governor Thornburg was debating whether he would evacuate 20 miles out,” Prof. Michael Corradini, chairman of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin, remembers. And the newspaper headlines during the Three Mile Island crisis suggested much worse. “Strangely enough,” Professor Henkin says, Three Mile Island “was actually one of the great successes of the industry.”

It’s not remembered that way, of course. One reason seems to be that the terminology related to nuclear power has taken on sinister connotations. Consider radiation. Think of the panic that the headline “Radiation levels increase by 100 percent” could induce. But in reality, such radiation would be medically beneficial; it would promote “radiation hormesis” — the exercise of the immune system. “We get one unit of radiation per day. When we double that — they’ve done tests with animals — they show better health. It’s like doing pushups,” says Gilbert Brown, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Massachusetts–Lowell. That doesn’t prove we shouldn’t worry about much higher levels of radiation — but it indicates how our emotional response does not correspond to reality.

Read More at National Review by Matthew Shaffer, National Review


Let us know what you think!