.News Update 4/10/09

New Three Mile Island Information Provides Warning for Future

April 10, 2009

New evidence was released on the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown demonstrating that the actual levels of radiation released into the surrounding area, as reported by the government, may be off by as much as 1,000 times. www.southernstudies.org/2009/04/post-4.html.org

Randall Thompson and his wife, Joy, were hired as health physics technicians to assess the health risk after the meltdown released radiation into the air and the Susquehanna River. The Thompsons are only now revealing that they witnessed a public health tragedy.

Following the disaster, the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group for the U.S. nuclear industry, asserted that there were "no public health risk or safety consequences from the [Three Mile Island] accident." Likewise, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said that the incident led to "no deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community." These claims were supported by information provided by the Kemeny Commission, which was established by President Carter.

However, people living near the plant at the time tell a very different story. Surveys of residents of neighborhoods surrounding the plant unearthed complaints of symptoms that point straight to high-dose radiation exposure, including organ failure, cancers, hair loss, and metallic taste in the mouth.

Bill Peters, of Etters, Pennsylvania, located just west of the plant, recounted evacuating his home and leaving his dog and cats in the house. Upon his return, he found five of the six dead, their eyes burned white and his property littered with dead wild birds.

Dr. Steven Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health in Chapel Hill, was enlisted to determine if there was a connection between the exposures and cancer rates. After the review, Wing stated, "I believe this is very good evidence that releases were thousands of times greater than the story we've been told. As we think about the current plans to open more nuclear reactors, when we hear--which we hear often--that no one was harmed at Three Mile Island, we really should question that."

Currently, 17 companies are seeking federal licenses to build 26 new nuclear reactors across the country, with more than $18 billion available in federal subsidies.

The underestimation of the amount of radiation released at Three Mile Island directly affected how the NRC created regulations for safety protocols and evacuation zones.

At the time, Arnie Gunderson, a nuclear engineer and former nuclear industry executive, said evacuation should have been ordered on the first day in order to protect more people. As it was, evacuation was only suggested for pregnant women and small children. Further, the government neglected to distribute potassium iodide to the public, a precaution that could have severely limited the health effects caused by exposure to radioactive iodine.

Randall Thompson said, "Once you realize how deep and broad the realignment of facts about [Three Mile Island] has been, it becomes really pretty amazing. I guess that's what it takes to protect this industry."

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