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Village Voice Article on TMI following Chernobyl

Duane Pendergast, 08/06/17

The Lethbridge Herald recently provided me with two articles from "The Village Voice" published on May 13, 1986.  "The  Village Voice" originates from New York and was founded by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer in October of 1955. It bills itself as the United States  first and largest alternative newsweekly.

This brief review and discussion of these  articles is intended to guide to readers to  information on TMI.  Links to some pertinent websites are provided.

Monster mutant living plants

One article  is titled "You Wore a Tulip" and was authored by Anna Mayo. A subtitle says "Seven years after the nation's worst nuclear accident, strange plant effects are appearing, but the government doesn't want to hear any bad news." A sidebar  is titled "Chernobyl, PA." The other article is titled "The Moving Target" and was authored by James Ridgeway.

The first article does discuss plants alleged to have been damaged and mutated by radiation from the Three Mile Island reactor accident (TMI). It also includes some illustrations. One of these is a photo of three dandelions - one small and three more with stems about ten times bigger. Another shows some rather large and distorted dandelion leaves. A third shows what appears to be a spruce tree with a large ball of tight packed branches or abnormal growth. I've seen many evergreens that look like like that over the years. This one is particularly striking though, as it is in cemetery surrounded by grave stones.  The caption reads "Unusual plant effects, like this one near Harrisburg, usually signal a high number of cancer cases." This  photo underscores  the  ability of the author and newspaper editors to turn an ordinary looking photo  into sinister drama and sets the theme for the article. The most striking aspect of this article is that it relates many stories about radiation induced effects on plants, animals and humans but does not seem to offer science based proof.

The second article by Mr. Ridgeway  goes on to speculate on the possibility of nuclear accidents in the US which might be even worse than Chernobyl. The most remarkable aspect of this article is that it almost seems to apologize for, and lament,  the fact that the consequences of the Chernobyl accident were much more severe than TMI. That seems strange, but one could speculate that it aims to keep attention on TMI, rather than Chernobyl. Perhaps the unstated goal was  to support the plaintiffs in many lawsuits launched almost immediately after the accident at TMI. More on that later! The Chernobyl accident happened on April 26, 1986 and these articles were published just 2 1/2 weeks later.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The lack of evidence for radiation effects apparent in the Anna Mayo article could lead one to believe there was no monitoring for radiation in the area. In fact the EPA indicates  they were on the scene within hours and had  quite a few staff there a few days after the accident.  This 1980 article on their website describes their activities. It concludes that "An interagency analysis concluded that the accident did not raise radioactivity far enough above background levels to cause even one additional cancer death among the people in the area. They found no contamination in water, soil, sediment or plant samples."

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC)

The USNRC provides a summary of the TMI accident and aftermath till 1993 on their website. To quote;

"Detailed studies of the radiological consequences of the accident have been conducted by the NRC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services), the Department of Energy, and the State of Pennsylvania. Several independent studies have also been conducted. Estimates are that the average dose to about 2 million people in the area was only about 1 millirem. To put this into context, exposure from a full set of chest x-rays is about 6 millirem. Compared to the natural radioactive background dose of about 100-125 millirem per year for the area, the collective dose to the community from the accident was very small. The maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem."

Their conclusion is;

"In the months following the accident, although questions were raised about possible adverse effects from radiation on human, animal, and plant life in the TMI area, none could be directly correlated to the accident. Thousands of environmental samples of air, water, milk, vegetation, soil, and foodstuffs were collected by various groups monitoring the area. Very low levels of radionuclides could be attributed to releases from the accident. However, comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well-respected organizations have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, most of the radiation was contained and that the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment."

Many additional references are provided in the summary.

General Public Utilities Nuclear Corporation

Mark Bowden, a reporter with  The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an article titled; "Three Mile Islandís final verdict: Truth"  published Sunday, November 10, 2002 wrote that;

"Cancer rates have not risen significantly since the 1979 nuclear power plant disaster, just as theyíve said all along. Long-term-health studies published recently show no significant increase in cancer deaths among those who lived closest to the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island when it partially melted down in 1979. ................... Inside the plant at TMI, the core went out of control, operators mishandled it, and Metropolitan Edison, the plantís owner, played right along with the script. It lied, denied and obfuscated. But despite all of this, the plant worked as designed. The vessel contained the molten nuclear pile. Significant contaminants did not escape the containment building. .......... After the accident, some of the most able talent in the nuclear business took over operation of TMI. The industry quickly realized that Met Edís handling of the accident was a textbook example of crisis mismanagement. The engineers, managers and spokesmen I dealt with at the plant for the next two years, after GPU Nuclear took over, were uniformly smart, candid, helpful and honest. I got an education in nuclear power, its real hazards and benefits."

General Public Utilities Nuclear sponsored an extensive radiation health study published in 1986. It was titled "Radiation And Health Effects": A Report on the TMI-2 Accident and Related Health Studies" by Hans Behling and James Hildebrand. It contains details of studies and the effects of radiation for those interested in delving deeper and is available via the Internet here.

Some Lawsuits

An article on the US Public Broadcasting System website provides a summary of some lawsuits initiated after the TMI accident. It indicates a class action lawsuit was established within weeks on behalf of all residents living within 25 miles of the plant site. In 1996, some 17 years after the accident ten of the cases were considered by Judge Sylvia Rambo. An excerpt from her decision in the article linked above indicates she dismissed the cases as the plaintiffs "have neither presented direct evidence that they were exposed to doses of radiation greater than 10 rems, nor have they presented indirect evidence capable of supporting the inference that they were exposed to cancer inducing levels of radiation."

Lawyers for  plaintiffs appealed that decision, and although it is difficult to find much easily available public information, an article in the New York Times, dated December 28, 2002  indicates lawyers finally abandoned their lawsuit on behalf of one thousand nine hundred ninety plaintiffs.

Epilogue

Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited with the phrase "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." There was certainly plenty of fear generated by the TMI accident.  One can't help but wonder if the plaintiffs and lawyers who initiated the lawsuits  ever considered Roosevelt's saying. It seems they reacted to the fear generated through the media  rather than real effects from radiation releases. Many, if not all, of the plaintiffs experienced real health effects. However, as supported by many scientific studies and reported by Mark Bowden, the evidence is overwhelming that their effects were not caused by radiation released during the accident. One can even sympathize with the lawyers who initiated the lawsuits if they did so on contingency. I also wonder if those responsible for  promulgating the fear  have any remorse for their actions.

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