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, as well as Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, an excellent overview by NRC historian Samuel Walker. 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.

(ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy interviewed ANS member Lake Barrett recently to provide the balance that was severely lacking in the Netflix series.)

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.

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.

Metz on Harold Denton: Memories of a life in nuclear safety

July 23, 2021, 2:54PMNuclear News

Metz

A number of years ago, historian and writer Chuck Metz Jr. was at the Bush’s Visitor Center in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains when he ran into former Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Harold Denton and his wife. Metz was at the visitor center, which opened in 2010 and is now a tourist hotspot, because, as he explained to the Dentons at the time, he had overseen the development of its on-site museum and had written a companion coffee-table history book.

The chance meeting turned into a friendship and a fruitful collaboration. Denton, who in 1979 was the public spokesperson for the NRC as the Three Mile Island-2 accident unfolded, had been working on his memoir, but he was stuck. He asked Metz for help with the organization and compilation of his notes. “I was about to retire,” Metz said, “but I thought that exploring the nuclear world might be an interesting change of pace.”

Denton passed away in 2017, but by then Metz had spent many hours with his fast friend and was able to complete the memoir, Three Mile Island and Beyond: Memories of a Life in Nuclear Safety, which was published recently by ANS. Metz shared some of his thoughts about Denton and the book with Nuclear News. The interview was conducted by NN’s David Strutz.

YouTube video: Facts are on nuclear’s side

April 28, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe
Author Joshua Goldstein, from the video "The Nuclear Option"

Climate activists rarely mention nuclear power as a tool in the battle against climate change, consumer reporter John Stossel comments during the video "The Nuclear Option" on his YouTube channel.

Fukushima Daiichi: 10 years on

March 1, 2021, 2:12PMNuclear NewsLake Barrett

The Fukushima Daiichi site before the accident. All images are provided courtesy of TEPCO unless noted otherwise.

It was a rather normal day back on March 11, 2011, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant before 2:45 p.m. That was the time when the Great Tohoku Earthquake struck, followed by a massive tsunami that caused three reactor meltdowns and forever changed the nuclear power industry in Japan and worldwide. Now, 10 years later, much has been learned and done to improve nuclear safety, and despite many challenges, significant progress is being made to decontaminate and defuel the extensively damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactor site. This is a summary of what happened, progress to date, current situation, and the outlook for the future there.