Despite the 1957 fire at the Windscale nuclear plant in Britain followed by Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, 1986 was seen as the world’s first serious nuclear disaster when the Chernobyl meltdown occurred in the Ukraine.
- Three-Mile Island
There hasn’t been a nuclear power plant built in the USA since 1979, the year Three Mile Island nuclear reactor at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania malfunctioned, sparking a meltdown that resulted in the release of radioactivity. It was the worst nuclear accident in US history. The official government and nuclear response is that no-one was harmed – “comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well‑respected organizations have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, most of the radiation was contained and that the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment”. link
However an interview between Juan Gonzales and Harvey Wasserman (March 2009) indicates otherwise: Wasserman says: “In fact, there’s just been two new studies released in Harrisburg this week. One indicates that as much as a hundred times more radiation escaped than the government and the industry have been willing to admit. And the other is that the statistics clearly show ongoing problems of cancer, leukemia, other radiation-related diseases. The fact of the matter is that . . . this is the best-known, the most infamous industrial accident in US history, and yet the industry and the government refuse to get to the bottom of the situation”. link
May 2017: Three Mile Island faces shutdown without financial rescue. Exelon Corp., owner of Three Mile Island, site of the United States’ worst commercial nuclear power accident, says it will shut down the plant in 2019 without a financial rescue from Pennsylvania. The announcement comes after five years of losses on the power plant and its recent failure in an auction to sell Three Mile Island’s power into the regional grid. link
On April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. Thirty-two people died and dozens more suffered radiation burns in the opening days of the crisis, but only after Swedish authorities reported the fallout did Soviet authorities reluctantly admit that an accident had occurred. The Chernobyl station was situated at the settlement of Pripyat, about 65 miles north of Kiev in the Ukraine. Built in the late 1970s on the banks of the Pripyat River, Chernobyl had four reactors, each capable of producing 1,000MW of electric power. On the evening of April 25, 1986, a group of engineers began an electrical-engineering experiment on the Number 4 reactor. The engineers, who had little knowledge of reactor physics, wanted to see if the reactor’s turbine could run emergency water pumps on inertial power.
As poorly designed experiment led to a reactor surge. To prevent meltdown, the operators reinserted all the 200-some control rods into the reactor at once. The control rods were meant to reduce the reaction but had a design flaw: graphite tips. So, before the control rod’s five meters of absorbent material could penetrate the core, 200 graphite tips simultaneously entered, thus facilitating the reaction and causing an explosion that blew off the heavy steel and concrete lid of the reactor. It was not a nuclear explosion, as nuclear power plants are incapable of producing such a reaction, but was chemical, driven by the ignition of gases and steam that were generated by the runaway reaction. In the explosion and ensuing fire, more than 50 tons of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere, where it was carried by air currents. link
April 2016: Chernobyl’s legacy 30 years on. The April 1986 accident contributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union and changed the way the world thinks about nuclear energy. Children are still being born with severe birth defects and rare types of cancer in areas near to Chernobyl three decades on from the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster. Pripyat was a city built for Chernobyl’s workers and their families, which before the disaster had a population of 60,000. The desolate concrete graveyard of giant Soviet-era buildings in the deserted city adjacent to Chernobyl is a reminder of how, in the days following the accident, a whole community left their homes in a hurry and never returned. link
January 2016: Giant arch to cover damaged reactor. A giant arch made of steel will cover a damaged reactor on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The 360-foot high, 850-foot wide structure, called the New Safe Confinement, will prevent the reactor from releasing more radiation. It will also protect it against extreme weather and other environmental impacts. By securing the site the arch will also make it possible to dismantle the reactor later on. Construction began in 2010. The project is due to be completed in late 2017. link