Three Mile Island accident

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The Three Mile Island accident of 1979 was a partial core meltdown in Unit 2 (a pressurized water reactor manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox) of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was the most significant accident in the history of the American commercial nuclear power generating industry. The TMI accident enhanced the credibility of anti-nuclear groups, who had predicted an accident,[1] and triggered protests around the world.[2]

The American public were concerned about the release of radioactive gas from the TMI accident and many mass anti-nuclear demonstrations took place across the country in the following months. The largest one was held in New York City in September 1979 and involved two hundred thousand people; speeches were given by Jane Fonda and Ralph Nader.[3][4] The New York rally was held in conjunction with a series of nightly “No Nukes” concerts given at Madison Square Garden from September 19 through 23 by Musicians United for Safe Energy. In the previous May, an estimated 65,000 people, including the Governor of California, attended a march and rally against nuclear power in Washington, D.C.[4]

In 1981 citizens' groups succeeded in a class action suit against TMI, winning $25m in an out-of-court settlement. Part of this money was used to found the TMI Public Health Fund.[5]

The Radiation and Public Health Project cited calculations by Joseph Mangano, who has authored 19 medical journal articles and a book on Low Level Radiation and Immune Disease, that reported a spike in infant mortality in the downwind communities two years after the accident. For example, according to one anti-nuclear activist, Harvey Wasserman, the fallout caused "a plague of death and disease among the area's wild animals and farm livestock", including a sharp fall in the reproductive rate of the region's horses and cows, reflected in statistics from Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture, though the Department denies a link with TMI.[6]

According to Eric Epstein, chair of Three Mile Island Alert, the TMI plant operator and its insurers paid at least $82 million in publicly documented compensation to residents for "loss of business revenue, evacuation expenses and health claims".[7] Also according to Harvey Wasserman, hundreds of out-of-court settlements have been reached with alleged victims of the fallout, with a total of $15m paid out to parents of children born with birth defects.[8] However, a class action lawsuit alleging that the accident caused detrimental health effects was rejected by Harrisburg U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo. The appeal of the decision in front of U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals also failed.


  1. Luther J. Carter "Political Fallout from Three Mile Island", Science, 204, April 13 1979, p. 154.
  2. Mark Hertsgaard (1983). Nuclear Inc. The Men and Money Behind Nuclear Energy, Pantheon Books, New York, p. 95 & 97.
  3. Interest Group Politics In America p. 149.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Social Protest and Policy Change p. 45.
  5. Gayle Greene The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart
  6. Harvey Wasserman, CounterPunch, 24 March 2009, People Died at Three Mile Island
  7. Three Mile Island: 30 years of what if ... Pittsburgh Tribune Review, March 22, 2009.
  8. Harvey Wasserman, 1 April 2009, CounterPunch, Cracking the Media Silence on Three Mile Island