Lake Barrett’s reality-grounded perspective on Netflix’s drama Meltdown: Three Mile Island

June 10, 2022, 7:00AMANS News

In an ANS-sponsored online event held on June 8, independent energy consultant Lake Barrett shared his perspective on the Netflix docudrama series Meltdown: Three Mile Island. Barrett, who was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s on-site director and senior federal official for the cleanup of the TMI Unit 2 accident in the early 1980s, countered inaccuracies in the series during an interview with ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy.

Meltdown: Drama disguised as a documentary

June 3, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear NewsJohn Fabian
The cooling towers of Unit 2 at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, closed since the accident in 1979.

The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 was the most-studied nuclear reactor event in the U.S. There is a plethora of research about the accident available to the general public, including the president-appointed Kemeny Commission report and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Rogovin inquiry report (split into volume one, and volume two, parts one, two, and three), which are the two detailed government-sponsored investigations into the accident. There are also thousands of documents in the NRC’s ADAMS database available to the public, an excellent overview by NRC historian Samuel Walker Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, as well as the Nuclear News special report from April 1979, and articles written by ANS members like William Burchill about the accident and the many changes it forced on the industry. If the producers of Meltdown: Three Mile Island—available on Netflix—had read any of those documents instead of relying mostly on input from antinuclear activists, their “documentary” might have been presented with at least some sense of balance and credibility.

Instead, similar to a recent Science Channel documentary on the Three Mile Island accident, Meltdown focuses on drama instead of science. This four-part miniseries does not attempt to provide a balanced set of facts from the technical community and instead relies heavily on nonexpert opinions and anecdotal statements to tell a story that easily falls apart under even the faintest scrutiny.

Nuclear News reached out to multiple ANS members who were involved with either the accident response or the clean up to help provide a critical look at some of the more egregious statements made in the documentary.

The Kemeny Commission Report from the pages of Nuclear News

May 26, 2022, 3:15PMNuclear News

This week’s Throwback Thursday post is again about Three Mile Island—this time looking at the coverage from the pages of the December 1979 issue Nuclear News about the Kemeny Commission. The twelve-person commission, announced by President Carter immediately after the accident in April 1979, was headed by John Kemeny—then president of Dartmouth College—with orders to investigate the causes and any consequences of the accident.

Insights from the Three Mile Island accident—Part 2: Improvements

May 6, 2022, 3:06PMNuclear NewsWilliam E. Burchill

Part one of this article, published in the May 2019 issue of Nuclear News[1] and last Friday on Nuclear Newswire, presented insights from the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island-­2 and addressed several issues raised by a previous Nuclear News piece on the accident[2]. Part two discusses safety improvements that have been made by both the industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the past 40 years.

Insights from the Three Mile Island accident—Part 1: The accident

April 29, 2022, 3:59PMNuclear NewsWilliam E. Burchill

The accident at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on March 28, 1979, was an extremely complex event. It was produced by numerous preexisting plant conditions, many systemic issues in the industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, unanticipated operator actions, previously unrecognized thermal-­hydraulic phenomena in the reactor coolant system (RCS), and the unprecedented challenge of managing a severely degraded core.

In focus: The Three Mile Island special report

April 28, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News

This week’s #ThrowbackThursday post features the special report published by Nuclear News in April 1979—one month after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Titled “The ordeal at Three Mile Island,” the report provides readers with a quick review of the accident, how it happened (as much as was known at the time), its immediate effects on the general public, and the public discourse that followed. It should come as no surprise that the report covers some negative responses from the public and politicians of the time, but it concludes with the responses of some policy leaders who tried to put the accident into perspective.

Looking back at coverage of TMI

March 31, 2022, 3:30PMANS Nuclear Cafe

This week for the #ThrowbackThursday post, we are again turning to the April 1984 issue of Nuclear News, which was highlighted in February when we looked at the start of the federal program to convert research reactors from the use of high-enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium. This week, however, we are reviewing the coverage presented in that issue about the five-year anniversary of the Three Mile Island-2 accident.

Exelon split completed; Constellation launched

February 2, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear News

Constellation, formerly Exelon Generation, owner and operator of the nation’s largest nuclear reactor fleet, announced this morning the completion of its separation from Exelon Corporation and its launch as a stand-alone, publicly traded company. Headquartered in Baltimore, Md., the new company began trading today on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol “CEG.”

Exelon announced last February that it had begun the effort to separate its utility businesses from its competitive power generation and customer-facing energy businesses.

How can operating nuclear plants challenge the status quo?

January 6, 2022, 7:00AMNuclear News

Throughout the history of commercial nuclear power plant operations, there have been events that changed the industry. The incidents at Three Mile Island and Fukushima brought about great advancements in how nuclear plants are operated, including additional safety measures and supplemental training on how to prevent such events. Looking forward, the commercial nuclear industry is poised for a similar transformative change: one motivated by financial viability.

When the Science Channel is light on science

November 30, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear NewsSteve Redeker

In September, cable television’s Science Channel aired an episode on power plant catastrophes as part of its series Deadly Engineering, with one principal segment on the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. The episode contains several inaccuracies and distortions—perhaps the biggest mistake being that the TMI accident was featured in Deadly Engineering at all, since no deaths or long-term adverse health trends resulted from the accident.

Leaving that aside, the episode includes other errors that executives at Science Channel should have caught and corrected before airing. They also should have made sure to include knowledgeable scientific reviewers from both sides of the nuclear issue, which they did not.

The biggest falsehood in the episode comes very near the beginning, with the horribly erroneous claim that most of eastern Pennsylvania was made permanently uninhabitable by the accident. Incredibly wrong, and likely believable and very frightening to some viewers.

BAS: Don’t be afraid of nuclear energy

August 31, 2020, 3:00PMAround the Web

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) is currently featuring on its website a series of five articles by young American and Russian scholars on nuclear safety, with a focus on the industry’s three major accidents: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

In one of those articles, “Don’t let nuclear accidents scare you away from nuclear power,” the authors conclude that “even after accounting for both the immediate and long-term toll of the three accidents, nuclear power has a remarkably safe track record compared to coal, natural gas, and even hydroelectric power.”

Looking Back: A Brief History of CONTE

January 2, 2019, 2:37AMANS Nuclear CafeDr. Jane LeClair

The accident that occurred at Three Mile Island on March 28, 1979, brought about many changes to the nuclear industry. Among the changes was the industry stopping to reflect on current procedures and the training of its employees. Exhorted by the findings of the Kemeny Commission and sponsored by the Department of Energy, industry leaders and training personnel began meeting on improvements to training at the Gatlinburg Conference in the early 1980's.

Nuclear Plant Construction Delay and Cost 3

November 2, 2018, 5:24PMANS Nuclear CafeWill Davis

Reactor vessel delivered to Calvert Cliffs; from brochure in Will Davis collection.

The year 1971 saw a continuation of the general trend of rising capital costs for all types of power plants, described by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in its publication for 1971 as having "risen rather rapidly."  According to the AEC, the aggregate major causes for the increases in costs specific to nuclear electric power plants were as follows, with author's analysis accompanying each: