With the anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident approaching, stories are percolating that use it as a hook to talk about nuclear energy. Let’s just say that a fair few of them would not have been written in 1979:
Nuclear reactors generate one-fifth of the nation's power. Some see nuclear as a stable, homegrown energy source in light of last year's oil price spikes. Others see it as a way to meet carbon-reduction goals.
Some other see it as Satan incarnate, but this AP story by Marc Levy doesn’t have much room for them.
Public interest is emerging, too: A Gallup Poll released in recent days shows 59 percent favor the use of nuclear power, the highest percentage since Gallup first asked the question in 1994.
We mentioned the other day that Gallup polls carry weight that others cannot match – enough to influence policy. This is exhibit A. And here’s a bit of the takeaway on the accident itself:
No one was seriously injured in the accident, in which a small amount of radiation was released into the air above the Susquehanna River island 12 miles south of Harrisburg. Studies of area residents have not conclusively linked higher rates of cancer to radiation exposure.
Journalistically careful, but okay. A lot of good material in this article – read the whole thing for an excellent mainstream look at nuclear energy then and now.
The Washington Post offers five myths about nuclear energy. It’s a balanced assessment, not really needing the TMI hook. We think writer Todd Tucker might have reached a little to get to five:
4. Nuclear power is "unnatural."
Umm – huh?
From Godzilla to Blinky the three-eyed fish on "The Simpsons," many of pop culture's oddest creatures owe their existence to the mutating powers of radiation.
Well, since Greenpeace had a go at exploiting fear of mutation a few days ago, we guess Tucker’s on to something we thought became the province of a cartoon a long time ago.
We like this one:
2. Long half-lives make radioactive materials dangerous.
Tucker makes a somewhat counterintuitive but perfectly logical point here:
There seems to be something intrinsically evil about anything that persists for so long. But a long half-life doesn't necessarily make a substance dangerous.
And an example:
A useful, radioactive and harmless part of every person, Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,730 years. Conversely, some short-lived isotopes can be extremely dangerous. Nitrogen 16, which is produced in operating nuclear reactors, emits very high-energy radiation despite its half-life of just 7.1 seconds.
He doesn’t overstate the case, but it’s an interesting one to make – very culturally astute.
Another good article.
And an editorial from the Fredericksburg (Maryland) Free Lance-Star uses TMI to get to this point:
Achieving energy independence, moderating climate change, and stimulating economic growth are three clear Obama goals. All would benefit from a renewed effort to embrace nuclear power as an alternative energy source. Yet that focus is fuzzed: We're still stuck in 1979, when an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa., frightened the nation back into the nuclear Dark Ages.
We agree. We never thought we’d appreciate an anniversary of the TMI accident - color us surprised.
We ran into this poem about TMI, called Tar, by C.K. Williams. Here’s a bit of it:
I remember the president in his absurd protective booties, looking absolutely unafraid, the fool.
I remember a woman on the front page glaring across the misty Susquehanna at those looming stacks.
But, more vividly, the men, silvered with glitter from the shingles, clinging like starlings beneath the eaves.
That last stanza hints at his title metaphor. Read the whole thing for an intensely personal view of that day in 1979. And then marvel at how far attitudes can move.
Yes, there it is, after you cross the misty Susquehanna.