Demanding Democracy after Three Mile Island

By Raymond L. Goldsteen; John K. Schorr | Go to book overview

ONE
COMMUNITY RIGHTS OR PRIVATE PROPERTY?

UNTIL 28 MARCH 1979, Three Mile Island was in all respects an ordinary nuclear power plant operated by an ordinary utility company, Metropolitan Edison, a subsidiary of General Public Utilities, based in New Jersey. The plant was neither the largest nor the smallest nuclear plant, considered neither the safest nor the least safe. Metropolitan Edison was neither the richest utility company nor the poorest, neither the most progressive nor the most backward. Early that spring morning, however, a series of events within the Unit 2 reactor changed the commonplace image of the Three Mile Island power plant, Metropolitan Edison, and the nuclear power industry, perhaps forever. Equipment failure and errors in judgment led to the worst nuclear accident in the history of commercial nuclear power in the United States. Only the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union exceeded the accident at Three Mile Island in amount of radioactivity released, nearness to a "meltdown," and extent of public scrutiny and concern.

From the vantage point of 1991, the story of the Three Mile Island accident might be told as a technological chronicle, the tale of a technology and its industry that unwillingly and unwittingly exchanged its image of stability and respectability for one of instability and disrepute and that then fought back, gaining the grudging tolerance it has today.

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