The accident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI‑2) nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pa., on March 28, 1979, was the most serious in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, even though it led to no deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community. But it brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations.
The accident caught federal and state authorities off-guard. They were concerned about the small releases of radioactive gases that were measured off-site by the late morning of March 28 and even more concerned about the potential threat that the reactor posed to the surrounding population. They did not know that the core had melted, but they immediately took steps to try to gain control of the reactor and ensure adequate cooling to the core. The NRC=s regional office in King of Prussia, Pa., was notified at 7:45 a.m. on March 28. By 8:00, NRC Headquarters in Washington, D.C., was alerted and the NRC Operations Center in Bethesda, Md., was activated.
The regional office promptly dispatched the first team of inspectors to the site and other agencies, such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, also mobilized their response teams. Helicopters hired by TMI’s owner, General Public Utilities Nuclear, and the Department of Energy were sampling radioactivity in the atmosphere above the plant by midday. A team from the Brookhaven National Laboratory was also sent to assist in radiation monitoring. At 9:15 a.m., the White House was notified and at 11:00 a.m., all non‑essential personnel were ordered off the plant’s premises.
The crisis ended when experts determined on Sunday, April 1, that the bubble could not burn or explode because of the absence of oxygen in the pressure vessel. Further, by that time, the utility had succeeded in greatly reducing the size of the bubble.
It also caused the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to tighten and heighten its regulatory oversight. Resultant changes in the nuclear power industry and at the NRC had the effect of enhancing safety.
Reference: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
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