The Three Mile Island accident and its relevance today


Olivia Buckel, Senior Editor-in-Chief

On February 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Ever since this toxic wreck occurred, reports of health problems have begun to wrack up. According to CNN, these ailments span across the board from rashes, nausea, and even trouble breathing.

This derailment is unfortunately both serious and not surprising. Accidents like this have been occurring for decades, including an incident in our very own state. This incident is called the “Three Mile Island Accident” and it occurred on March 28, 1979, near Middletown, Pennsylvania. Middletown is just under a five hour drive from Erie, Pennsylvania.

According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the “Three Mile Island” accident began at about four in the morning when a failure in the secondary, non-nuclear section of the plant occurred. This prevented the main feed water pumps from sending water to the steam generators, which prevented the generators from removing heat from the reactor core, which then caused the reactor itself to automatically shut down. Immediately, the pressure increased. This eventually caused the valve that should have closed when the pressure fell to become stuck open, and as a result, the plant staff was unaware that cooling water in the form of steam was pouring out of the stuck-open valve. This caused the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor itself to partially melt down, thus causing the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history.

Unfortunately, the health effects later reported by civilians are consistent with high doses of radiation. They include metallic taste, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, death of pets, and damage to plants. The 1979 death rate among infants under one year represented a 28 percent increase as well.

As we can see, history is once again repeating itself, and it is important that it is recognized and understood to prevent future catastrophes from occurring.