Last updated on March 1, 2013
Thirty years ago to the day of this article, the so far worst nuclear accident in a power plant the world had ever seen took place. Unit number 2 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suffered a loss of coolant accident. This led to that most infamous of nuclear failure modes: a core meltdown.
But despite that “everyone knows” a meltdown supposedly is the worst that could ever happen, with millions of dead and entire states rendered uninhabitable forever and ever, the effects of the TMI-2 accident are well documented with no deaths, no injuries, no cancers. The only casualty that came from accident was said by nuclear physicist Edward Teller to be his heart attack, caused by the stress of seeing Jane Fonda using the event to unjustly trashtalk nuclear power. With this in mind, maybe it’s time we had a little reality check when it comes to our nuclear fears, wouldn’t you say?
Don’t get us wrong, a nuclear meltdown still is no laughing matter. Having a vital energy producing unit that is supplying hundreds of thousands of citizens with electricity unexpectedly becoming permanently disabled is of course not good. But there is a huge different between “not good”, and “the end of normal life as we know it”.
Deriders of nuclear energy try to abuse the event by saying “They said it couldn’t happen, and yet it did”. This is simply not true. Noone ever said a nuclear accident cannot happen. The proof of this is in the accident itself, or rather its non-existing harmful effects. How can such a serious nuclear meltdown not harm anyone? The answer is simple: because we expected it might happen and prepared for it.
The promise that was made was not that an accident wouldn’t happen, but that nuclear power would not harm anyone in the public. This promise has been kept for 55 years all throughout the world in all places except one, Chernobyl, for reasons obvious: the Soviet Union did everything wrong in ways that would have been considered appalling and shocking to the entire world, even before the accident, had we but known about them. Everywhere else, nuclear power has not harmed a single individual in the general public by cause of radioactive release. And in the thirty years that has passed since the accident, we have only become better at enforcing this promise.
It is definitely time to let go of the past and Harrisburg. The lessons have been learned. We are moving on towards creating a sustainable future for ourselves and the next generations where all forms of clean energy has their given place in the energy mix. With each coal plant we exchange for a nuclear fission reactor, we save approximately 15 000 human lives over the course of the reactor’s lifetime. Nuclear power has never been safer and cleaner that it is today. Of course we shall stop being afraid of using it, instead having a healthy amount of respect for it, especially if the only reason we have for worrying is a thirty year old accident that didn’t harm anyone.