An early morning vigil was held Thursday near Three Mile Island to remember the partial meltdown that caused a lot of fear and confusion.
The nuclear disaster happened 40 years ago in Dauphin County, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The readings from a reactor at Three Mile Island’s were misread by operators in the control room. A valve was stuck open. Gauges suggested it was filled with cooling water, but heat and pressure were building. The core was exposed and partially melted down. Radioactive steam was released into the atmosphere.
Reaction to the emergency was slow. The plant’s operator notified authorities hours after the accident and neighboring communities did not find rest for days.
People were ordered inside, so were cows. Milk, soil and air samples were tested for radiation. Nearby schools were closed.
The situation eased by April 1, and President Jimmy Carter brought his wife Roslyn to the plant to calm fears.
Arnie Gunderson was a nuclear energy executive during the partial meltdown. He was interviewed a short time after the accident to help ease concerns.
“I was on television telling people that the Titanic hit the iceberg and the iceberg sunk, there was no radiation that leaked out of there,” Gunderson said.
Gunderson says he did not give accurate information to the public because he was not given the truth by officials familiar with the accident investigation.
“During the disaster, the staff knew the truth and didn’t tell the governor and didn’t tell the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” he said.
Gunderson says his opinion began to change when he saw a video of severe damage to the reactor core, suggesting the incident was more than a partial meltdown. He told industry executives that the truth about what happened at TMI was not being told. He says he became a whistleblower after he was blackballed.
Gunderson says he calls what happened at TMI a disaster. He says because detection systems were destroyed, we will never know how much radiation was released or the true impact on the environment and the health of people in the region.
Gunderson says safety and staff training have improved over the years, but he hopes that Three Mile Island closes for good. He said it is too expensive to operate and the industry constantly relies on subsidies to stay in business.