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How much longer will TMI be a part of the fabric of the area?: Editorial

Posted 4/5/17

Hindsight is 20/20, they say. So it’s interesting to look back at Three Mile Island 38 years after the accident at Unit 2 made our little corner of the world synonymous with nuclear disaster. …

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How much longer will TMI be a part of the fabric of the area?: Editorial

Posted

Hindsight is 20/20, they say. So it’s interesting to look back at Three Mile Island 38 years after the accident at Unit 2 made our little corner of the world synonymous with nuclear disaster.

Our new From The Vault feature last week focused solely on the Press & Journal coverage from the edition following the March 28, 1979 disaster.

We can barely start to count the ways that our world is different since then. We can only imagine how today’s social media and “fake news” accusations would have shaped people’s perceptions and actions in the aftermath.

It’s interesting to remember just who was here in the days following. President Jimmy Carter famously visited, and he is still in the news for his good deeds in his post-presidency lifetime. There was Dick Thornburgh, Pennsylvania’s governor, who had been in office only about two months when the accident occurred. He, of course, would go on to become attorney general of the United States under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. At age 84, he now serves as counsel to the international law firm of K&L Gates LLP in its Pittsburgh office.

And there was Harold Denton, Carter’s envoy in the crisis, who some declared the “hero of TMI” for his calmness amid the chaos of the accident, and his reassurances in his North Carolina drawl. Denton passed away in February.

And our coverage showed then-Mayor Robert Reid, then in his mid-40s, defiantly trying to get questions answered about what exactly the borough and the surrounding area should do and expect after the accident. The longtime educator is still a key player in Middletown, serving on the borough council. And how many people do you know who have a school named for them while they are still alive? It just goes to show the import he has had on this community.

We were struck reading a front-page editorial titled “What cost a catastrophe?” published in the April 4, 1979, edition of the Press & Journal that we reprinted in its entirety last week.

It said in part: “Immediate deaths from the radiation from Three Mile Island? No, there hasn’t been any. But 10, 20 years from today when cancer strikes many of us, will a catastrophe have befallen us then?”

Long term, the consensus is that cancer effects have been limited. There are still people who disagree, including the Three Mile Island Alert group as well as the makers of the feature film “Meltdown, Based on True Events.” The movie is taken from the experiences of Jill Murphy Long, who grew up 12 miles south of TMI. In 2012, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and skin cancer and thyroid cancer.

TMI will forever be linked to the dangers of nuclear power. But can or will something like it ever happen again in the United States? It’s always a possibility. But it is highly unlikely we would see anything on the level of Chernobyl or Fukushima in our country.

All of this might become moot to some extent in the next 10 to 20 years. Nuclear power is not in vogue as a “green” producer of power, outpaced by wind and solar. Discussions about the future of TMI come up on a semi-regular basis. If it does not start to receive credit for its zero-carbon emission status from Pennsylvania, as other power sources do, the playing field appears to be tipped. And it was about 18 months ago that no one purchased a year’s worth of its electricity at an energy auction.

TMI is already part of history. We are sure its 700 employees hope that the final chapter has yet to be written.

When we look back in another 38 years, what will we see?

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