28 March 2015

On This Day: Accident reported at TMI

Before TMI meant Too Much Information, many living in Central Pennsylvania felt TMI did not offer enough information. TMI, of course, stands for Three Mile Island. On This Day in 1979, in the early morning hours as many area residents were either still asleep or early birds were putting on coffee, a pressure valve in a reactor at the nuclear power plant failed to close. It was – and still is – the worst nuclear accident in US history. 

TMI was only five years old when the pressure valve failed to close and the cooling water drained into that open valve. The cooling water was contaminated with radiation. When the water drained, the core began to overheat. 

For those who have never seen a nuclear plant, imagine rods – kind of like large pipes – which must remain within a certain temperature range. Water in the tank cools the rods to keep them in that acceptable safe temperature range. When the water drained, obviously then the water level lowered, exposing the rods and causing the core to overheat. 

In an incident such as this one, the emergency cooling pumps automatically start up and force a cool down, essentially. However in this case the operators misread the readings – keep in mind nuclear power was still in its infancy – and turned off the emergency system. It was not until that evening, about 8 p.m., that operators recognized the need to get water back into the core and to restart the pumps. Once they did this, the temperature came back down and the emergency was soon resolved and important lessons were learned. 

From a public information viewpoint, it was a nightmare. Not enough information was provided to the people who needed the info. Too much incorrect information was given publicly. Families were concerned, wondering if they need to evacuate. Some did. Most stayed.  

We stayed. It was a Wednesday. Daddy went to work as normal. I went to school. My mom and sister (she would have been too young yet for school) stayed home as usual. Life went on as normal.  

Do YOU remember this incident? Did it affect your normal routine?


On This Day is a prompt I started this month to further explore historical events.

© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2015
Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.