Published On: Thu, Mar 28th, 2019

Nuclear DISASTER: How ‘most serious accident in HISTORY’ sparked US state evacuation | World | News

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On March 28, 1979, 40 years ago today, a power plant on Three Mile Island in south-central Pennsylvania suffered a devastating accident. A series of mechanical and human errors led to the worst commercial nuclear disaster in US history. More than two million people were affected by nuclear radiation. 

In the early hours of the morning, a mechanical or electric failure set off an unlikely series of events that led to the partial meltdown at the Unit 2 reactor. 

Water pumps that helped to cool the radioactive fuel in the reactor core malfunctioned.

Plant staff did not realise the reactor was experiencing a loss of coolant and took a series of actions that made the problem worse.

These further starved the reactor core of water flow and caused it to overheat.

The nuclear fuel began to melt through its metal container – about half the reactor core melted and traces of radioactive gas escaped into the community.

Officials were concerned that it may cause a full-scale explosion, releasing a large amount of radioactive material. 

The local governor at the time, Dick Thornburgh, advised pregnant women and pre-school children within five miles of the plant to evacuate.

It was not until three days later that experts determined the threat of explosion had passed. 

The incident sparked a panic nationwide and the support for nuclear energy fell from an all-time high of 69 percent in 1977 to 46 percent.

It also led to mass protests outside the plant and around the US.

An estimated two million people were exposed to small amounts of radiation as a result of the TMI accident.

However, there are no known health impacts despite several studies. 

The accident did lead to changes in the way nuclear plants are regulated in the US, though.

The entire clean-up effort lasted 14 years and cost an estimated £750million. 

Radioactive fuel and water was removed, and workers eventually shipped 15 tons of radioactive waste to a nuclear storage facility in Idaho.

Today, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station is still operating out of the unaffected Unit 1.

However, Exelon, who owns and operates it, announced it will close the plant this year.

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