Thirty years ago, a nuclear accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, Pennsylvania that would shake America’s confidence in nuclear power.
The accident was a cooling malfunction that caused a partial melt-down of the reactor core, releasing a small amount of radioactivity.
The accident was determined to be caused by a combination of equipment failure and the inability of the plant operators to understand the reactor’s condition during the event.
Unlike the Chernobyl disaster that occurred a few years later, the Three Mile Island’s reactor vessel did not fail. The leaked radioactive gases were vented into the atmosphere through specially designed filters under operator control.
No immediate deaths occurred, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimated that approximately one additional cancer in the area would result from the accident.
Although any increases in the cancer rate is unacceptable – I think we would all agree - it could have been much worse.
But this accident had a profound impact on the public, the nuclear industry and the NRC.
Public confidence in nuclear power generation was shattered.
The clean-up effort took nearly 14 years and $1 billion dollars.
Three Mile Island served as a wake-up call that we had become complacent on nuclear safety.
After the accident, the NRC, Congress, and the nuclear industry took a hard look at what we needed to do to make this industry safe and gain back the public’s trust.
Under the direction of the NRC, the industry made sweeping changes.
Today the nation’s 104 operating nuclear reactors maintain high levels of safety and reliability.
Our plants have also become much more efficient over the past thirty years. As a result, we have been able to almost double our generation capacity since 1979.
These changes have given the nuclear industry one of the best safety records of any industry in the United States.
Now Americans realize that nuclear power can provide reliable energy, and can do it without polluting.
Reducing our country’s dependence on fossil fuels - we will need to capture the winds off the shores of Delaware, the sun rays in Nevada, and the CO2 off the coal plants in West Virginia. We will need to plug-in our cars in Detroit. But we will also need nuclear power.
We will need nuclear power to help us meet our clean air goals and our climate goals.
But any support for the nuclear industry will vanish if another nuclear accident occurs.
Without a safe nuclear industry, there will be no nuclear industry.
As the oversight committee on nuclear safety, it is our job to make certain that the NRC and everyone who works in a nuclear power plant knows safety is the number one priority.
Only with a safety-focused nuclear industry can America reap the benefits of clean, safe nuclear power.