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Problems with nuclear safety after Three Mile Island

40 years after Three Mile Island accident, debate over safety of nuclear energy still goes back and forth, Witf,  by Ivey DeJesus/PennLive | Mar 26, 2019   Arnold “Arnie” Gundersen was a lead nuclear engineer in 1979 when the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island sent a tide of fear and panic across central Pennsylvania.Gundersen, a former licensed reactor operator, needed no coaxing to convince a jittery public that it had nothing to fear with regards to the March 28, 1979 accident at the Londonderry Township plant.

“I was on television telling people not to worry,” said Gundersen, whose wife was pregnant at the time. “I was telling everybody, ‘Don’t worry. No radiation got released.’ I think I said, ‘The Titanic hit the iceberg and the iceberg sunk.’ I think that was my comment at the time and boy was I wrong.”

But it took him about a decade to change his mind.

His conversion from proponent to nuclear whistleblower occurred gradually in the 1990s as Gundersen, among other things, served on nuclear energy symposiums and as an expert witness for plaintiffs lawsuits against the nuclear industry.

“I was on the other side of the argument,” said Gundersen, who sits on the board of the Fairewinds Energy Education, a Charleston, S.C.-based anti-nuclear energy nonprofit that advocates for renewable energy. “I would call myself a nuclear zealot back then as opposed to a nuclear critic now.”

Others come at the nuclear energy debate from a decidedly opposite direction. …

These days,   Heather Matteson, who works at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County, and  Kristin  Zaitz, who used to work there, are ardent supporters of nuclear energy.  …..

Now 70, Gundersen, stands by his conviction that the health of untold numbers of people across central Pennsylvania was endangered by the Three Mile Island partial meltdown. Over the years in his testimonies, Gundersen has attested to a litany of factors, he said, contributed to the misrepresention by the nuclear industry about the facts of the accident, including the number of radiation plumes released, the amount of radiation released and the amount of radioactive waste that was released inside the reactor.

Gundersen said that because of the inaccurate assessments released to the public, subsequent medical studies on the impact of Three Mile Island radiation exposure were compromised.

“The plant wives pulled all the kids out of school by 11,” Gundersen said. “The plant staff knew how serious it was. Civilians, who trusted government, didn’t do a darn thing.”

The 2011 Fukushima Daiishi nuclear plant disaster in Japan has furthered fueled the debate on nuclear energy, reinforcing the public opinion chasm. Radiation particles from the plant, which was destroyed that March in the wake of a powerful tsunami, spread over an area the size of Connecticut. About a quarter of a million people fled the area……

A report published by Scientific America in January, noted some areas near the Fukushima plant continue to exceed five times the level of radiation set by Japan as safe for the general public. In certain spots radioactivity remains as high as 20 millisieverts, the maximum exposure recommended by international safety experts for nuclear power workers, according to Scientific America.

The debate goes beyond radiation and certainly includes arguments about uranium mining and radioactive waste. Nuclear proponents say that the mining of uranium levels a far lower impact on the environment compared to fracking, natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel energy sources.

Gundersen argues that uranium mining exposes workers to radiation, and contaminates groundwater and aquifers….

Gundersen discredits the assessments released on Fukushima. He claims the nuclear industry used “identical tactics” to deal with that disaster as it did with the Three Mile Island accident, Chernobyl and even the Deepwater Horizon disaster. That includes downplaying the risks and telling the public it is in no immediate danger.

“The industry controls the narrative,” Gundersen said. “The orthodoxy very quickly circles the wagons and protects trillions of dollars of investment.”

Eric Epstein, chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, an anti-nuclear advocacy group, stands behind Gundersen’s assessment of the lack of transparency in the nuclear industry. Epstein says the industry will never own up to the dangers of nuclear energy nor the dangers inflicted on central Pennsylvania as a result of the Three Mile Island accident.

He says he remains resolutely cynical about nuclear: “We can all agree that there are no safe levels of radiation exposure. … But the industry can’t afford to acknowledge the truth. It would bankrupt the nuclear industry.”….

“It’s an orthodoxy,” Gundersen said. “The nuclear industry is an orthodoxy. What the high bishops say the lowly priests repeat. At the time I just accepted the party line of the orthodoxy.”

For Zaitz and Matteson, co-founders of Mothers for Nuclear, too much is at stake not to stand behind it.

“In college I learned about the biases we all have,” Zaitz said. “I started evaluating my beliefs and using more data instead on a feelings-based approach. I used that to examine beliefs about nuclear…..it aligns with my values about preserving the environment. The ability to use electricity on a tiny footprint with no emissions was something that made me challenge my views.”…. https://www.witf.org/news/2019/03/40-years-after-three-mile-island-accident-debate-over-safety-of-nuclear-energy-still-goes-back-and-f.php

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March 27, 2019 - Posted by | safety, USA

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