36 Years of Three Mile Island's Lethal Lies ... and Still Counting
The lies that killed people at Three Mile Island 36 years ago on March 28, 1979 are still being told at Chernobyl, Fukushima, Diablo Canyon, Davis-Besse ... and at TMI itself.
As the first major reactor accident that was made known to the public is sadly commemorated, and as the global nuclear industry collapses, let’s count just 36 tip-of-the iceberg ways the nuclear industry’s radioactive legacy continues to fester:
1. When about half of TMI’s fuel melted on March 28, 1979, the owners, industry and regulators all denied it, and continued to deny it until robotic cameras showed otherwise.
2. Early signs that such an accident could happen had already surfaced at the Davis-Besse reactor in Ohio, which was also manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox. TMI’s owners later sued Davis-Besse’s owners for not warning them about what had happened.
3. When TMI’s radiation poured into the atmosphere the industry had (and still has) no idea how much escaped, but denied it was of any significance even though stack monitors failed and dosimeters in the field indicated high releases (plant owners claimed they were “defective”). Only due to the work of the great Dr. Ernest Sternglass, recently departed, was public attention turned to the potential harm this radiation could do.
4. When animals nearby suffered mass mutations and death, the industry denied it. When the plague was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Baltimore News-American, the industry denied the damage could be related to radiation.
5. Industry “experts” assured the public radiation doses to downwinders were similar to a single x-ray, but ignored well-established findings from Dr. Alice Stewart and others that a single x-ray to a pregnant woman could double the chances of childhood leukemia among her offspring.
6. Industry “experts” ignored the reality that radioactive fallout can come down in clumps rather than spread evenly, and scoffed at findings from neighborhood surveys done by Jane Lee, Mary Osbourne and others showing major outbreaks of cancer in certain downwind neighborhoods.
7. When humans nearby were born with Down’s Syndrome and other mutations, and then adults began dying, the industry denied it, then denied any connection to TMI, but then did pay at least $15 million in out-of-court settlements to affected families on condition they not speak about it in public.
8. When Chernobyl exploded in 1986, Soviet officials said nothing as massive clouds of radiation poured across Europe and into the jet stream that would carry it to the U.S. within 10 days.
9. The U.S. government did nothing of sufficient scale to monitor Chernobyl’s radiation as it came here, and did nothing to warn the public to avoid milk and other foods that might concentrate that radiation, and has repeated that behavior in the wake of Fukushima.
10. A massive bird die-off at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore came with the arrival of the Chernobyl cloud and was documented by resident ornithologist Dr. Dave DeSante, whose findings were ignored by the government; soon thereafter, DeSante lost his job.
11. Chernobyl’s radiation was tracked all across Europe where it continues to irradiate plants, animals and humans. The most credible study of Chernobyl’s human death toll put it at 985,000 in 2010.
12. Chernobyl still seethes with radiation, but the massive, hugely expensive movable sarcophagus meant to cover it is not yet in place.
13. When fire runs through the wooded areas around Chernobyl, massive quantities of radiation are re-released into the atmosphere.
14. Fifteen Soviet-era reactors remain operable in Ukraine, much of which is now a de facto war zone, raising serious doubts about what will happen to them and the rest of the downwind human race.
15. The Japanese government was repeatedly and passionately warned by thousands of citizens for more than 40 years that putting reactors in a tsunami zone surrounded by earthquake faults was not a good idea. They were dismissed as “alarmists” and repeatedly assured that the reactors at Fukushima and elsewhere around Japan could come to no harm.
16. Despite repeated public protests, when Fukushima Dai’ichi was built an 85-foot-high bluff was taken down so units 1 through 4 could operate more cheaply at sea level; as widely predicted, they were massively flooded on March 11, 2011.
17. Critical backup batteries meant to keep the reactor cores cool in case of melt-downs were placed in basements which were thoroughly flooded when the tsunami hit Fukushima. Workers later frantically took batteries from nearby parked cars to try to power up the stricken cooling systems and other critical components.
18. The exact whereabouts of the melted cores from Fukushima Units 1, 2 and 3 remain unknown.
19. After a half-century of industry assurances that American reactors could not explode, four General Electric reactors blew up at Fukushima.
20. By estimate of Hiroaki Koide, assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, some 30 times as much Cesium 137 has been released at Fukushima as was released during the bombing of Hiroshima.
21. Some 300 tons of radioactive water continues to pour into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every day.
22. Thousands of highly radioactive spent fuel rods remain scattered around the Fukushima site; thousands are also still suspended in damaged spent fuel pools 100 feet in the air atop weakened buildings above shattered, melted reactors.
23. A petition signed by more than 150,000 people demanding that Fukushima be taken over by the world community was submitted to the United Nations on November 7, 2013, but has yet to receive a response of any kind.
24. Fukushima is still owned and operated by Tokyo Electric Power, which built it despite massive public opposition and continues to mismanage it while turning the “clean up” into a profit center, with a labor force thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime.
25. Like Fukushima, California’s Diablo Canyon reactors were built despite huge public protests, and sit in a tsunami zone surrounded by earthquake faults whose potential seismic power exceeds Diablo’s structural capacities, according numerous experts, including NRC official Dr. Michael Peck, who worked at Diablo for the commission.
26. A continual stream of revelations indicate illegal collusion on safety and other issues at Diablo between its owners, Pacific Gas & Electric, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as the California Public Utilities Commission.
27. Diablo’s owners almost certainly violated regulatory requirements and the law in using components within the reactors that were not tested to meet seismic standards.
28. Earthquakes have already damaged at least two U.S. reactors, at Ohio’s Perry site and at North Anna, Virginia (that quake also damaged the Washington Monument in our nation’s capital).
29. Public money designated for use by PG&E to upgrade piping systems was diverted to executive bonuses, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2010 unrepaired gas lines, which were known to have been deteriorating for a decade, blew up in San Bruno, killing eight people and doing millions of dollars in damage. Such a disaster at Diablo Canyon could kill countless thousands and do untold damage to the national economy and global ecology.
30. Diablo Canyon’s once-through cooling system violates state and federal water quality regulations by dumping huge quantities of hot, radioactive liquid into the Pacific, killing billions of marine creatures while unbalancing the ocean ecology and contributing to climate chaos.
31. Like most other old U.S. reactors, Ohio’s Davis-Besse is literally crumbling, with the concrete in its safety shield being pulverized by continual freezing, yielding ever-growing holes in the structure.
32. Like most other old U.S. reactors, Diablo Canyon, Davis-Besse, five reactors in Illinois and many more cannot compete in electricity markets against wind power, solar panels, other renewable sources or increased efficiency, and would shut down were it not for massive public subsidies.
33. Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission is being asked by FirstEnergy, Davis-Besse’s owner, for subsidies amounting to more than $3 billion to keep open that decrepit reactor, which opened in 1978, and the Sammis coal burner, which is even older.
34. Wisconsin’s Kewaunee reactor has shut for purely economic reasons despite being fully amortized and having no apparent outstanding maintenance or engineering crises.
35. California’s San Onofre reactors were shut in part due to violations of licensing requirements that are mirrored at both Diablo Canyon and Davis-Besse, where shut-downs could be required by law. Let’s hope ...
36. As we commemorate this tragic anniversary, we must note that this list of reactor nightmares could go very very far past 36. But let’s hope it doesn’t take that many more years to realize the folly of this failed technology.
In honor of the many many victims of Three Mile Island, and of the great Dr. Sternglass and so many dedicated experts and activists, we must turn this sad litany into the action needed to shut down ALL the world’s reactors so we don’t have to experience this nightmare yet again.
The lives we save will be our own … and those of our children ... and theirs ...
Harvey Wasserman reported directly on TMI’s death toll from central Pennsylvania. He co-wrote KILLING OUR OWN: THE DISASTER OF AMERICA’S EXPERIENCE WITH ATOMIC RADIATION.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
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Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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