Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
People were killed by Three Mile Island and other nuclear disasters
Submitted by Donna Dillman, with permission from Harvey Wasserman
One of the biggest lies ever told in American industrial history is that "no
one died at Three Mile Island."|
In the frenzy to get public funding for still more nuclear reactors, some
industry backers now say no one has ever been killed by the nuclear industry
These absurd statements reflect atomic energy's desperate need for federal
loan guarantees, which have been slipped into the Energy Bill now before
Congress. After fifty years of proven failure, no private sources will
invest in this lethal, expensive technology.
Meanwhile billions are pouring into the booming business of green power,
including wind, solar power and increased efficiency. These technologies are
not only profitable and clean, they don't kill people.
And the reality is that people have, in fact, been killed by the fallout
from atomic power, and not just at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
At the very birth of fission technology, Lewis Slotin, a top researcher on
the Manhattan Project, was fatally irradiated in an early experiment.
Patriotic workers were exposed to high radiation doses while building the
bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the 1950s, a critical accident struck a reactor at Chalk River, Canada.
Scores of American "jumpers" were run into the plant to do clean-up work and
then run out. One was the future president Jimmy Carter, who joked about the
incident in his autobiography "Why Not the Best."
In 1961, three workers were killed at the SL-1 plant in Idaho. One was
pinned to the ceiling of the containment dome by a fuel rod that shot out of
the reactor core. The men's bodies were classified as high level radioactive
waste, and were buried in lead casks.
On October 5, 1966, a critical blockage brought Michigan's Fermi I fast
breeder reactor to the brink of disaster. Fermi's owners said the $100
million accident released no radiation. But for a month state authorities
prepared to evacuate Detroit.
The entire history of atomic energy is defined by radiation releases that
the industry has covered up. Today, nothing reactor owners say can be
believed. At both Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, elaborate official
studies done before the accidents "proved" that it was "impossible" for what
then did happen to occur. The term "inherently safe" had been applied to
reactors that proved very much otherwise. Today that same term is being used
to describe the "new generation" of plants to be underwitten by these
In the late 1960s, Dr. John Gofman was asked to evaluate the killing power
of so-called "normal" releases from America's fleet of atomic reactors.
Gofman was a towering figure. He was instrumental in developing the atomic
bomb. As a medical doctor, his breakthrough discoveries in heart disease and
LDL cholesterol are still in use.
Dr. Gofman was chief of health research at the Atomic Energy Commission. But
he discovered that regular radiation emissions from America's nukes would
kill 32,000 citizens per year, even without an accident or terror attack.
The industry demanded Gofman change his findings. When he refused, he was
fired. He spent the rest of his life warning that Americans were being
killed every day by the ever-growing fleet of US reactors.
In 1979, human error caused the melt-down at Three Mile Island Unit Two. The
reactor's owners immediately denied there was any melting of fuel. This was
a lie. Robotic cameras later showed that at least a third of the fuel had
The owners said there was never a danger of a major catastrophe. That was a
lie. The plant was very much at the brink of an apocalyptic radiation
The owners ridiculed those---among them Pennsylvania's Secretary of
Health---who desperately warned that local citizens should be evacuated,
especially to protect pregnant women and small children. The governor
finally ordered just such an evacuation, but later fired his long-time
friend at the Department of Health, who had advocated the evacuation, and
who warned of damage from TMI's stealth radioactive fallout.
TMI's owners denied that its releases harmed anyone. But the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission has admitted to Congress that nobody knows how much
radiation escaped or where it went.
Official statistics showed a huge jump in infant death rates in Harrisburg
in the three months after the accident compared to the numbers for the
previous two years. State statistics showing heightened cancer rates were
quickly altered. The state's tumor registry was abolished. Evidence showing
downwind health effects was suppressed.
But an investigative team from the Baltimore News-Herald uncovered a massive
epidemic of death and disease among the area's farm and wild animals.
In early 1980, I reported from ground zero on a ghastly epidemic of human
death and disease. Based on a horrifying series of house-to-house
interviews, I found cancer, heart attacks, respiratory problems, skin
lesions, cataracts, a metallic taste in the mouth, hair loss, birth defects
and everything else you'd expect from a major radiation release was
everywhere to be found.
With three other researchers, I spent two years investigating these and
other parallel epidemics at nuclear facilities throughout the United States.
Our findings were published in 1982 by Dell/Delta in a book called KILLING
OUR OWN (www.ratical.org/radiation/KillingOurOwn/KOO.pdf) that showed a
similar death toll throughout the nuclear fuel cycle---especially at uranium
mines, mills and enrichment facilities---and at weapons production plants,
waste storage pools and much more.
At TMI, 2400 central Pennsylvania families filed a class action lawsuit
seeking justice. But the federal courts have never allowed their case to be
Studies by Steven Wing of the University of North Carolina have confirmed
the TMI death toll. Researcher Joe Mangano and others have used the
government's own statistics to show a heightened cancer rate in the region.
Parallel studies have correlated radioactive emissions with infant death
rates, cancer rates and other health epidemics around other operating
But the industry's response is always the same. Anyone who shows that
reactors kill people is automatically "discredited," even if their
credentials, like those of Dr. Gofman, dwarf those of their attackers.
Even at an obvious catastrophe like Chernobyl, the deniers are out in force.
The radiation releases at this unprecedented explosion far exceeded what was
released at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
By all accounts, the plague that darkened central Pennsylvania after TMI was
exponentially exceeded for thousands of downwind square miles in the Ukraine
and other nearby nations of the former Soviet Union. The cancers, birth
defects and other radioactive plagues have duplicated on a far larger scale
what had already happened in the US in 1979.
Today, with billions in bailout dollars on the line, there is big money to
be made in saying that atomic reactors have harmed no one.
But the truth is less convenient. Nuclear power kills people. From the
Manhattan Project to TMI, from Chalk River to Chernobyl, even "normal"
operations can be lethal.
Solar power, wind energy, bio-fuels, increased conservation---these sources
are safe and clean. They don't create radioactive emissions or wastes, and
will not be potential terror targets.
Nor do they need federal loan guarantees. Unlike atomic energy, green power
is profitable for the entire community.
And unlike Three Mile Island, we will never have to evacuate wind farms or
solar panels while their owners lie about what's really going down.
Harvey Wasserman is senior advisor to the Nuclear Information & Resource
Service, and has been fighting the reactor industry since 1973. He is senior
editor of Freepress.org, and author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH