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The Conversation the Director of Meltdown Doesn’t Want to Have About Nuclear Energy

Tom Kauffman
The following is a guest blog post by Tom Kauffman, NEI's Director of Media Relations.

Over more than three decades since the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident, claims that radioactivity from the plant caused negative health effects have been refuted time and time again. In over twelve studies, not one found any detectable impacts. Any claim that cancer or other diseases have been caused by the accident doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.

That holds for the industry as a whole too. In research conducted for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Dr. James Hansen concluded that the use of nuclear energy has saved 1.8 million lives that otherwise would have been lost due to burning of fossil fuels.

Despite this compelling scientific evidence, a former resident of the area, Jill Murphy Long, is trying to distort the truth with a new film, Meltdown. In her conversations with the press, Long has said, "I think this conversation needs to happen. I'm not a lawyer; I'm not a scientist. We'll introduce people who need to talk. That's what I am, a facilitator of conversation."

If Long really wants to have a conversation, I’m ready for it. I’ve been a resident of south-central Pennsylvania my entire life. For 39 years I have lived in one of the counties adjacent to the facility, and from 1977 to 2000 I worked at TMI. During the accident I lived in Dauphin County where the plant is located. Today I live in a house in York County that is adjacent to TMI and can see the plumes of water vapor rising from its cooling towers.

I was at TMI Reactor Unit 2 the day of the accident on March 28, 1979. That morning, for hours, I was within a hundred feet of the reactor. I worked at the plant throughout the ten-year accident recovery. After 12 years in operations, I shifted to site communications working from a building right beside the plant.

My total radiation exposure over the 23 years I worked at TMI (including the accident) was less than a person would get from three CAT scans. The risk of cancer associated with that low level of exposure is next to nothing. And if you compare risk factors, traveling to and from work is by far the most dangerous thing I’ve done associated with more than 30 years working in the nuclear industry.

After more than a half-century of radiological monitoring and medical research, there is no evidence linking any U.S. nuclear energy facilities to negative effects on the health of the public or workers. Claims that radioactivity from TMI caused negative health effects have been debunked by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which concluded that no deaths or long-term health effects were connected to it.

More than a dozen independent studies came to the same conclusion including: the National Cancer Institute; a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter; a commission established by Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh; the National Institute of Health; the Columbia University School of Public Health; the Committee on Federal Research into the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation; the Pennsylvania Department of Health; and others supported by various state and federal agencies.

Cancer is a horrible disease, one that has taken the lives of many millions of people. I know others who are struggling against it, and they deserve not only our sympathy, but our help. But that help needs to start with medical and scientific research, research that has already shown that radiation from nuclear power plants has had nothing to do with the development of the disease.

I’m sure that Ms. Long feels she’s doing the right thing in making Meltdown. But the fact is, she’s not going to help anyone. If she convinces the public of this untruth, she will harm the expansion of a source of energy that has already proven to have saved many lives, and has the potential to save millions more here and around the world.

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