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Penn State marks 40th anniversary of Three Mile Island accident

By Phyllis Zimmerman, Special to the Press & Journal
Posted 4/10/19

On the eve of its 40th anniversary, the 1979 reactor accident at Three Mile Island was commemorated in a reflective program hosted by Penn State Harrisburg on March 27.

“TMI 40: Honoring the …

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Penn State marks 40th anniversary of Three Mile Island accident

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On the eve of its 40th anniversary, the 1979 reactor accident at Three Mile Island was commemorated in a reflective program hosted by Penn State Harrisburg on March 27.

“TMI 40: Honoring the Community and Legacy of the Accident at Three Mile Island,” was a multi-faceted presentation comprising archive tours, panel discussions, and expert speakers. All examined the events and aftermath of March 28, 1979, when the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station in Londonderry Township experienced the partial meltdown of a reactor. TMI was noted as the most serious U.S. commercial nuclear power plant accident to date.

“The historic Three Mile Island accident is woven into the fabric of the surrounding community. It set a precedent for understanding nuclear risks, security and safety. It also informed research and provided a catalyst for social change,” said Holly Angelique, professor of community psychology and interim director of the School of Behavioral Science and Education at Penn State Harrisburg.

In one session, Darrin Bann of the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center presented “Altered Molecular Profile in Thyroid Cancers in TMI Vicinity.”

This focused on a 2017 study by researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine led by Dr. David Goldenberg.

After examining tumor samples from people verified to have lived in the areas around TMI at the time of the accident, remained in the area and subsequently developed thyroid cancer, researchers noticed a shift in cases to cancer mutations consistent with radiation exposure, from those consistent with random causes.

Also, Marci Culley of the College of Coastal Georgia presented, “Citizen Participation After Environmental Disaster,” which not surprisingly, indicated that following TMI, community activism not only increased on a local level, but also nationally. According to Culley, TMI activists are motivated by a variety of factors, including anger, fear, and deepened convictions.

Heidi Abbey Moyer, coordinator of the campus’ Archives and Special Collections, was on hand for guided tours of the Three Mile Island archival collection, “From The Archives: An Exhibit Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Accident at Three Mile Island.” The exhibit, co-curated by graduate assistant archivist Raven Haywood, will remain on display in the campus library through May 31.

Angelique chaired the day’s first panel discussion, “Art, Journalism and Activism,” that opened with Eric Epstein, chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, presenting “How Many Times Are We Going to Bail TMI Out?” Paula Kinney of Concerned Mothers and Women presented “Forty Years of Activism,” followed by “Current Situation in Fukushima: Invisible Nuclear Disaster” by independent journalist Hiroko Aihara of Fukushima, Japan.

The session concluded with speaker Yasuyo Tanaka, artist of “If The Wind Blows” Disaster and Self-Reform exhibit at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York City.

After a dinner break, the day rounded out with a final panel discussion, “Health, Action, and Public Policy: Academic Contributions” led by Hannah Spector, assistant professor of education. Around 75 attendees filled a library conference room to standing-room-only status to watch.

Final presenters were Kyoko Sata of Stanford University with “Living in a Nuclear World: The Politics of Knowledge on the Effects of Radiation,” followed by Kaoru Miyazawa of Gettysburg College with “Ethnographic Research and Education in Post-Disaster Fukushima.”