PresidentJimmy CarterleavingThree Mile IslandforMiddletown, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1979The
Three Mile Island accident
was a partial coremeltdownin Unit 2 (apressurized water reactormanufactured byBabcock &Wilcox) of theThree Mile Island Nuclear Generating StationinDauphin County, PennsylvanianearHarrisburgin 1979. The plant was
The accident began at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-openpilot-operated relief valve(PORV) in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolantto escape. Themechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as aloss of coolant accidentdue to inadequate training andhuman factors, such asindustrial designerrors relating to ambiguous control room indicators in thepower plant'suser interface. The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of ﬁve days, as employees of Metropolitan Edison(Met Ed, the utility operating the plant), Pennsylvania state ofﬁcials, and members of the U.S.NuclearRegulatory Commission(NRC) tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decidewhether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis.In the end, the reactor was brought under control, although full details of the accident were not discovered until much later, followingextensive investigations by both a presidential commission andthe NRC. The Kemeny Commission Report concluded that "there willeither be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusionapplies to the other possible health effects."
Several epidemiological studies in the years since the accident have supported theconclusion that radiation releases from theaccident had no perceptible effect on cancer incidence in residents near the plant, thoughthese ﬁndings have been contested by one team of researchers.
Public reaction to the event was probably inﬂuenced by the release of the movie
The China Syndrome
12 days before the accident,which happens to depict an accident at anuclear reactor.
Communications from ofﬁcials during the initial phases of the accidentwere felt to be confusing.
The accident crystallizedanti-nuclearsafety concerns among activists and the general public; resulted innew regulations for the nuclear industry; and it has been cited as a contributor to the decline of new reactor construction that wasalready underway inthe 1970s.
The chain of events leading to the partial core meltdown began at 4 a.m.ESTon March 28,1979, in TMI-2's secondary loop, one of the three main water/steam loops in apressurized water reactor. As a result of mechanical orelectrical failure, the pumps in thecondensate polishingsystem stopped running, followed immediately by the mainfeedwater pumps.This automatically triggered theturbineto shut down and the reactor toscram:control rodswere inserted into the core and ﬁssionceased.But the reactor continued to generatedecay heat, and because steam was no longer being used by the turbine due to the turbinetrip, thesteamgeneratorsno longer removed that heat from the reactor.