Final Project – DW

Student Name: Diandre Wilson.

Project Site: Dauphin Country , Pennsylvania Three mile Island

Title:  Three Mile Island: America Scar


Mile Three Island is a nuclear power site located in the south of central Pennsylvania. The nuclear power station is famed for the March 1979 accident where a series of human and mechanical errors triggered the worst nuclear accident in US history. As soon as the accident, occurred, there was a lot of commotion in the air amid helicopters testing the amount of radiation that had been released in the air. Government agencies were also busy trying to ensure that the surrounding was safe. It did not take long before the media realized that they had a crucial headline that was cooking. Within a short span of time, the lives of thousands of people had been brought in attention by the media. As a result, an eruption in covering the incident occurred. After the first press conference was called, the media took charge and kept on relaying information about the accident for instance information about the anticipated health impacts of the accident.

Owing to the fact that the incident did not lead to any death or accident, the media focused on the covering about the worse that could happen in terms of anticipated health implications. Yet still, the media did not talk about the vast safety measures that had been put in place to protect the plant from a catastrophic disaster. Thus, the media decided to focus on what would generate headlines for them, the health implications of the accident. The discussion on the health implications of the accident continued for an extensive period of time. Within the first few years, the media concentrated on a discussion about the possibility of cancer inflicting on the locals living within the first 30 miles. As time went on, the debate became extensive and journalist started publishing articles that talked about the mental implications on the accident. Lately after 30 years, the discussion changed tone with different stakeholders having dissenting opinions on the impacts of the accident. with respect to this, some parties have published information that tends to blame the accident for the escalating cancer rates in Pennsylvania, while other parties have dismissed these reports by ascertaining that the incident did not cause any health implications on the locals.

During my paper it will be answering many question one will be how the media portrayed the health issues . Another one will be what kind of news media said what about three mile island and the health issues . Also will talk about different time period and how they talk about it wanted to see what news source portrayed three mile island more and the different ways it did .

My paper examines how the media portrayed three mile island health issues over two different time period from 1979-1989 to 1990 -1999 and 2000-2019. During my paper  I will be using films , news articles and magazines to compare how they were portrayed over the two different time periods . I will be breaking down what each have in common or different from each other i will be finding the way the media portrayed the health issues at first to find a pattern of consistent and if not consistent i will provide information to why.

Data sheet

   In 1980, more than 43,000 krypton curies were removed from the reactor. At the same time, the first operated entry into the nuclear reactor took place. In November 1980, different stakeholders who include scientist, the government, and citizens met in Harrisburg to discuss about the issue. In 1985, the reactor’s top was removed followed by off-site shipment of the core debris of the reactor. In 1990, the reactor was defueled followed by the evaporation of the water involved in the accident. Late in 1990, funds for decomposing the plant were issued by GPU. In 1991 GPU had requested for an accident renewal notice followed by a safety evaluation by NRC who issued the license amendment in 1992. In 1993, several incidents related to the accident occurred. These incidences include the processing of the accident generated water. NRC also issued a possession only license. Lastly, post defueling monitoring storage began in 1993.

First years of media

A few hours after the accident occurred, the management of the Three Mile Island generating station had made efforts to reach out to people at least to tell them that they did not need to worry since everything was under control. Signals about the dangers of a nuclear accident both short-term and long-term were conveyed across all media outlets in the country. Barely three hours after the accident had occurred, the Pennsylvania emergency management authority declared a general emergency implying that officials at the power plant had failed to contain the radiation coming from the plant. Within less than an hour’s time, the civil defense authority through their, reporters broke their silence about the news and declared evacuation processes to secure locals.

Hours after the incident, reports from the media urged locals to lock their windows and stay inside their homes. This information was necessary at the time least to allow experts to weight on the amount of damage that had been caused as well as the precedent implications. Expectant mothers and children were ordered through the television to flee, leaving behind ghost towns. When officials in control of the nuclear power plant began to speak about the incidence, they were very reluctant to talk about the bad news, but they were quick to talk about the measures that they had deployed to prevent a significant incidence. They did not provide the information that everyone wanted to hear for instance the amount of radiation released after the accident beyond the confines of the plant and so on. Since journalists were struggling to gather information about the extent of the damage and the prevailing implications, they first compared the nuclear power plant accident with other catastrophes. With respect to this, they alleged that a nuclear power accident was way too worse compared to an earthquake, hurricane, and flood.

Since in the first one month there was news that the problem was under control and no serious risks which were to be expected, little information about the health implications of the incident was laid out to the public by the media. Among all the major publishers in the United States, it is only the York Daily Record that published information that detailed on the possibility of a severe catastrophe. The Soviet life announced that the plant was loaded with several safety measures, but it ended up exploding. The reporter also cited matters to do with improper construction, mismanagement, and shoddy workmanship among other contentious issues. Similar to the Soviet press which raised issues to do with human safety, the Ukrainian media also announced that there were safety concerns that needed to be addressed because the site was not safe for human exploration. At this time, the dominant theme expressed by the US media was that the locals were not at risk since appropriate measures had been deployed to address any escalation.

A year later after the accident occurred, media outlets reported that there were people who had already developed the signs of being affected by radiation from the plant. With respect to this, some locals had complained of a metallic taste in their mouth. Others complained of rashes on their skin, respiratory challenges, and nausea. This news was dismissed by medical practitioners who dismissed the symptoms and affirmed that the locals were facing health effects associated with stress. There was also a debate on the impact of a nuclear accident before the incidence after the release of a film entitled the China film.

The China film explained about the seriousness of a nuclear accident, generating sharp responses from experts who fiercely contributed to the then national debate. The film displayed some details about how different stakeholders are likely to react after a nuclear reaction. This included displaying about the reaction of the crew members who were trying to suppress the media from reporting about the incidence. Through the China syndrome film, it was easy to convince the public that worse was to be expected from the accident since the film was produced even before the accident occurred. Everyone seemed to support a film which was initially associated with character assassination as well as being perceived as a component of sheer fiction as described by nuclear industry players.

Kimberly Wells, the protagonist in the movie is filmed secretly in a nuclear plant. Later, the film gave details of how operators failed to contain a nuclear accident rendering a whole neighborhood unsafe. There is also a segment of the film where an official informs the protagonist that a single explosion could render an extensive area like Pennsylvania inhabitable. The film was an excellent platform for Fonda to launch a campaign serious against nuclear power. Her efforts were ambushed by Edward Teller who showed interest in lobbying support for nuclear power by dismissing her claims that they lacked evidence. Despite the popularity that the movie had, it did not have any scene showing the health effects of exposure to radiation; however, one character Gödel, was affected emotionally by the turn of events.

    The National Library of Medicine portal shows that there were more than 121 articles which were written as a response to the incidence since they all had the title “three-mile island.” The majority of these articles were mainly discussing the need of measuring the rate of radiation that had inflicted on the locals who were believed to have been exposed to radiation at the time. Researchers also raised the question of potential health risks to the locals owing to the accident. Arthur Upton, a former head of the National Cancer Institute predicted that people living within the 50-mile radius from three miles island have a likelihood of being affected and might at the end of the day end up suffering from cancer. Other articles for instance a New York Times article by Alan Richmanapril, also focused on issues related to mental related illnesses are a result of the accident. The United States public health services also conducted a survey with the aim of discovering the number of people who were affected mentally due to the incident. MacLeod, a researcher from the department, predicted that there would be increased infant death within the 10 miles radius. The author also predicted that there would be other associated health challenges such as women conceiving children with less than 3.3 pounds as well as the possibility of babies being born with Apgar scores.

    Five years after Three Miles island accident, the debate on the health effects of the incident focused on the people living near the nuclear plant. The Science Magazine published a report by the New York state health administrators.The department had measured the levels of airborne xenon released in the air due to the nuclear incident. The institute predicted that the airborne xenon within the first few years was three times higher above normal. Some of these articles that highlighted on stress include the journal of trauma and stress, psychosomatic medicine, and the health psychology magazine. In total, more than 31 articles were published. Throughout 1980s journals continued printing and researching about the Three Mile Island accident. However, they appeared to shift from the debate on cancer and radiation to a progressive discussion of mental issues and psychological problems among the locals. Thus, the debate on the health impacts by the accident was changing tone from cancer to mental related within the first ten years, and this was necessitated by the fact that no single cancer event that had been reported.

From 1990 to early 2000s

   By the beginning of 1990, few articles presented data in relation to cancer with respect to the issue compared to the first 10 years; however, as opposed to the first 10 years, the media reported more about cancer and the accident. Cancer-related journals such as the Journal of the American medical association, New England Journal, and the pediatrics did not publish any information in regards to the issue. Later the Columbia University published articles on the rates of cancer in the region after the incident. The study used medical records, and its findings were that the number of people diagnosed with cancer had increased. There were substantial increases in lung cancer, leukemia, and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma by almost 64 percent. Despite the research, the research did not link the increased cancer levels with radiation. However, researchers concluded that there was an increase in cancer levels as well as stress in the region after the accident. From 1990 to 1996 it appeared that no research about Three Miles Island that had been done since no article related to the incidence that had printed. In 1997, the three miles issue was reappeared again when the attorneys of more than 2000 people who complained that they had been affected suggested that there was the need to revisit the work, Hatch. In the same year, an article that linked the accident with cancer and radiation was published by Dr. Steve Wing’s paper. The article also highlighted the weakness of previous work that dismissed that reports of radiation and cancer must have been biased. With respect to this, Wing’s article ascertained that there were significant increases in cancer rates in Pennsylvania after the accident. Up to date, the Wing’s article remains one of the modern article supporting the association between cancer and the three miles island incident.

    Wing’s article was not taken lightly by a section of researchers, for instance, the Colombian researchers who responded that dismissed their claims through publishing articles which were contrary to their information. One of these articles was titled writing in environmental health perspectives. The authors accused Wing with the desire to raise controversy. Another article associated Wing’s article with poor science citing mistaken logic, misconceptions, simple errors, and misinterpretations. In 2000 and 2003 respectively, the University of Pittsburgh published articles with the topics of three miles island. The articles covered information of an investigation about death rates after the three miles island. Through the report, the researchers dismissed the earlier work of Wing and Hatch since their findings implied that there was no link between death rates and radiation among the persons who died within the five miles radius of three miles island.

From early 2000s to 2019

    Very few journalist have reported on the health impacts of the Miles three island accident within the last two decades. However, some articles have taken keen on reporting on the long term effects of the accident and radiation. In 2010, the New York Times magazine wrote a report that seemed to support the idea that the radiation that leaked from Miles three island did not cause any physical effects on the locals. It is worth noting that during the first three decades after the accident, the media sensation that scared off nuclear investors to a level that during this period no operative who had ordered for a nuclear reactor. All the operating licenses of all the nuclear operatives in the US expired in 2015 even though none of these licenses that have been renewed despite that nuclear power provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Most stakeholders have blamed the media for the public distrust since the media kept on highlighting the health effects of the nuclear accident thus causing fear among the public. With respect to this, a government task force has reported that the news journalists who reported on the issue knew very little about nuclear energy and focused on a very narrow conception on the issue.

    In 2010, the Pennsylvania real-time news through their article, debates continue over health issues after nuclear plant accident. The article, which is one of the recent media coverage on the topic highlighted a story of a victim, Chris Achenbach Kimmel who was 14 years old during the Three Mile Island accident. The author briefly gave an account of how the victim together with his family responded to the incident. The accident is still fresh in the memory of Kimmel who is apparently 54 years old. The newspaper article also featured Kimmel’s wife in the storyline, a 54 years old currently suffering from thyroid cancer since 2010. Mrs Kimmel’s doctor informed the reporters that she was not surprised that most cancer victims came from Pennsylvania. According to a reports from the centre of disease control, Pennsylvania has the highest recorded cancer rates compared to any other state in the US. Most people who have grown up in the region still hold on to their position that the Three Miles Island is to be blamed for the recent cancer cases in the area.

On the other hand, the nuclear industry has stacked in its position that there is no link between the cancer issue and the nuclear accident. At their defence, the nuclear fraternity usually refers to a study by the Pittsburgh medical centre which found out that there was no link between cancer and the accident. In 2017, the Penn State College of medicine study released a report on the topic of Miles three island. The study was conducted after a couple of people residing within Pennsylvania launched complains over the escalating thyroid cancer cases. Through the study, scientist found out that low radiation exposures can cause mutation and later cancer. However, similar to other previous studies, the study did not link the Three Mile Island accident to cancer.

    In October 2014, a journal by facts sheet reading lessons from the 1970 accident at three miles island also highlighted on the issue of the health implications as a result of the accident. The journal indicated that there were no measurable health effects as a result of the accident. The article also highlighted the fact that the accident did not cause any physical injuries. It also highlighted on the fact that over the decades no single study that has established that there was any direct link between the incident and other health issues. It also highlights the December 2003 ruling by the federal court where the decision dismissed the 2000 complainants who were seeking compensation against the owners of the former plant citing health-related issues related to the accident. According to the author, the court also ruled out that the accusers failed to present substantial evidence that radiation from the nuclear reactor caused the health effects that they were facing. The author also gave other details that after decades of scientific studies and research have indicated that there are no adverse health effects on the surrounding due to the accident. Facts sheets also gave the details of persons compensated due to the accident, and with respect to this, the persons who suffered from financial losses after being evacuated due to the incident were the only ones who were paid. The court also quoted this piece of fact as a way to approve that the industry had demonstrated its effectiveness in handling liabilities. Businesses were also compensated because of revenue loss. On June 17th 2018, operador nuclear also published their report that there was no evidence of the Three Miles Island accident had any negative impacts on human health or the environment.

Image result for an image about the health effects of mile three island effects

Finally, the local community and the state were compensated due to the expenses incurred immediately after the incident.

Image extracted from a report published by Operador Nuclear on June 17th 2018


I had the opportunity of interviewing a person who resided near the three miles island during the times when the accident took place. The interviewee and his parents lived barely less than three miles from the site of the accident. Thus he was well acquainted with all the information in regards to the accident. The participant was merely one year old when the accident was taking place. However, the participant gave important insights that coincide with what the media and the government reported in relation to the issue. I had the privilege of asking the participant if he watched the Chinese syndrome film while he was still a kid. He informed me that he watched the film later while in high school. In line with this, he informed me that he was nervous when he watched the film since it reminded him about the reported health implications of the accident. The participant informed me that at first, he did not take the health impacts of the accident seriously while he was still young, but later he started taken this issue seriously when he grew up after high school amid the media reporting about the likelihood of cancer-related deaths.

I learned that the media had played a major role in associating the accident to the increased mental and cancer incidences in the area since the interviewee informed me that he has not heard or seen anyone so far who has developed health complications due to the Three Miles Accident. The participant informed me that he learned about what people were afraid of from the media since the media constantly reported about how the radiation released in the atmosphere could lead to cancer. I also asked the participant about how he can describe the Three Miles Accident. In line with this, he informed me that he could only associate the incident with fear created by the media because no one died or got sick due to the accident. The participant who has also studied about the impacts of the accident also informed me that as opposed to reports by the media, there is no evidence of any defected kids due to the radiation released after the accident. The participant also informed that there are still security personnel securing the area of the incident despite that the clean-up process was already complete. Finally, the participant informed me that if he would have a chance to reside near the Three Miles Island accident scene, he would probably do so since so far, no one was affected by the accident.


    No much research on the health impacts of three miles island that has been conducted despite that it is more than 40 years since the incidence occurred. Official bodies, for instance, the national regulatory commission to date still argue that radiation that came from the accident did not cause any health challenge to the residents. Thus, full accounting on the health issues in relation to the accident were not fully accounted for. Nevertheless, it can take a long time to explore the health impacts of radiation since it takes a long time before the onset of diseases like cancer. The fact that research on the issue has remained controversial does not mean that professionals should shy away from researching about. This is attributed by the fact that failing to research about the topic leads to more challenges than solutions and at the end of the ay nothing is achieved. With respect to this, researching about the topic has led to the protection of the public health at a higher degree possible because since then safety measures have been put in place to avoid another nuclear meltdown. Finally, media coverage on the health effects of Three Miles Island has also earned the research on nuclear effects more ideas, and a result, much is known about the topic.


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