Are We At The Brink Of A Major Nuclear Accident In America?

On April 26, 1986 the worst nuclear accident in history occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in the Ukraine. Over 600,000 people were severely exposed to radiation after one of the nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown. The accident sent a plume of radioactive fallout across Eastern and Western Europe and it resulted in the evacuation of parts of Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus. Thousands of people have died of cancer due to exposure and hundreds of children have suffered birth defects. Some 24 years later, dozens of near-accidents at nuclear plants in the US have taken place, posing the question: Are we safe?

Nuclear Accidents In The US

Nuclear accidents are measured on a level scale of 1 to 7. The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl has been the only level 7 accident that has taken place. In March 1979, there was a level 3 nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, just nine miles east of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Equipment failures and worker mistakes led to partial core meltdown of a reactor. There were no injuries or deaths, but the accident caused a lot of concern and alarm over the safety of nuclear plants near cities and towns.

There have been many nuclear accidents in the US after Three Mile Island (for a partial list click here). One of these accidents took place in 2006. The accident happened at three nuclear stations owned by a company called Exelon, in Braidwood, Illinois. It was then that a nuclear material leak was discovered contaminating the groundwater under the stations. The leak had gone unnoticed for years. Last month, Exelon finally agreed to a $1 million settlement to a lawsuit filed by Will, Ogle, and Grundy counties. The money will go to fund environmental studies and research in the area near the plant to ensure the contamination is not affecting the health of their populations.

Another nuclear accident took place in 2005 at the Nuclear Fuel Services Plant in Erwin, Tennessee. There, 35-liters of a highly enriched uranium solution leaked during handling at a lab. The government kept the public in the dark after the accident — unwilling to let them know about the potentially deadly incident which could have led to an “uncontrollable nuclear reaction.” The company had been cited for safety violations prior to the accident.

According to a Greenpeace article in 2003, “The nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) have always maintained that the probability of an accident was low. However, neither the nuclear industry nor the NRC has been very good at estimating the probability of an accident.”

The fact is that even today these accidents, as low level as they may be, happen often. There are over 104 commercial nuclear plants in the US, not counting research reactors at universities, and the military’s own reactors. So safety is the key here, but no one should try to sleep well when some of these nuclear/utility companies are still violating safety standards, which endanger plant workers and your family.

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Plan near Harrisburg, PA. Courtesy photo.

Profits Over Public Safety?

The latest nuclear accident in the US took place in November 2009 and it happened again at Three Mile Island. According to reports, a small amount of radiation caused by a leak was detected at the plant. All 150 workers were sent home and were later tested for radiation exposure. The Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station is now run by Exelon — yes, the same company that ran the Illinois plants that leaked nuclear material into the groundwater in 2006.

Exelon happens to be the biggest nuclear plant company in the United States. On its website the company says that it is committed to safety for their workers and the public. Yet, a nuclear leak in 2006 and another in 2009, should be a cause of concern regardless of how small the accident was. Back in 2005, a New Jersey based environmental organization, NJPIRG, accused Exelon for putting profits over public safety.

This is a snippet of a released NJPIRG issued January 2005:

Exelon has put profits over safety time and time again. Whether it is staffing reductions, poor maintenance oversight or the silencing of employees with safety concerns, Exelon has enough skeletons in the closet to give pause to state regulators who will decide whether or not to approve the merger. We believe that unless Exelon fixes its safety problems, state regulators should do everything they can to oppose this merger.

A major nuclear accident in US soil can only be prevented if the government and the agencies it has created to regulate and oversee safety at nuclear plants do their job thoroughly and correctly. Nuclear accidents cost not only human lives, but also lots of money to clean up. There are people that don’t know what to do to protect themselves from radiation exposure if there is a reactor failure at a nuclear plant nearby. What’s worse, some people don’t even know that they may have a nuclear plant in their state. Do you know if your local nuclear plant is safe? Better start looking into it.


9 Responses to Are We At The Brink Of A Major Nuclear Accident In America?

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    -1 Vote -1 Vote +1uberVU - social comments

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Charles Barton
    April 28, 2010 at 1:53 am

    From the viewpoint of industrial accidents in the energy industry, nuclear power seems remarkably safe. in February a natural gas powered electrical generating plant in Connecticut exploded killing five people and injuring 27. Had such an accident occurred at a nuclear plant we would have had no end of the ranting and raving about nuclear safety from nuclear critics like Dolores M. Bernal. Yet I would be willing to bet that Ms. Bernal did not say a word about the safety of fossil fueled generation facilities.

    Early this month a coal mine explosion in West Virginia killed 29 miners. During this decade world wide tens of thousand coal miners have died in mine accidents. Even worse, world wide every year the burning of coal in the production of electricity is a contributing cause in the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Where is Ms. Bernal’s concern?

    Also this month an oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded killing 11 people. The subsequent sinking of the drilling platform triggered a massive release of oil, that is now rapidly flowing into the gulf of Mexico. The oil from the spill now threatens already damaged Louisiana wetlands. Such accidents in the oil industry are far more common than even the minor nuclear accidents Mr. Bernal is so concerned about.

    There is strong evidence that American nuclear plants are safe. Far safer than the operations of the energy industry as a whole, far safer than than the operations of fossil fuel powered electrical generating facilities, far safer even than renewables powered electrical generating facilities.

    What does Ms. Bernal chose to focus then? Nuclear safety, of course. If american nuclear power plants are really as unsafe as she claims, where are the casualties? Why isn’t the safety records of the nuclear industry worse than the fossil fuel industry, if nuclear power is really unsafe? Why is it that there are more deaths caused by accidents at wind generation facilities in the United States, than at American nuclear power plants if nuclear power is so poorly regulated, and so dangerous?

  3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1John Wheeler
    April 28, 2010 at 7:44 am

    My oh my! 600,000 people “severely exposed” and “thousands” dead? Funny – the World Health Organization and governments around the location of the Chernobyl reactor have concluded just the opposite: radiation exposure to the general population in areas affected was a small percentage of normal background radiation and there have been no measurable increase in ill health affects of any kind.

    “24 near accidents at US Nuclear Plants”? Rubbish! The truth: in the 24 years since the Chernobyl event US nuclear plant reliability has steadily risen and is now consistently greater than 90% making nuclear plants the most reliable form of energy production on the grid, and human error rates are about 1 per 100,000 hours worked . By all measures nuclear plants are safe and getting safer all the time.

    Ms. Bernal, you should be ashamed of yourself.

    • -3 Vote -1 Vote +1Paxus Calta
      April 29, 2010 at 5:53 am

      Shame on you Mr Wheeler. The WHO report indicates 4000 dead from those in the immediate area and the liquidators crew and another 5000 dead in the greater area in their 2006 report (see

      And these are the lowest serious estimates. Recent serious studiy published by the New York Academy of Science put the number of deaths at over 900,000.

      The only safe bet is that nuclear apologists will lie about these numbers.

      • +1 Vote -1 Vote +1John Jenco
        May 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm

        Shame on you, Paxus whoever you are!

        The link you provide isn’t to the World Health Organization website, or even a WHO report; it’s to some anti-nuclear publication that purports to quote ‘the facts’. Have you never heard of using “first sources”?? Your ‘source’ is like asking the fox to account for the hen house egg count…

  4. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1M. Randall
    April 28, 2010 at 8:43 am

    I’m sorry but nuclear explosions are much more dangerous than any other type of accidents at energy producing plants. Did you read the article? nuclear material leaks to ground water, guess how many people would get sick from that, more than the 24 miners that died in West Virginia. By the way, John and Charles do you homework on what happened in Chernobyl. The health impacts from that accident remains with us today. I wouldn’t be surprised if John and Charles work for a nuclear plant boss. Can’t believe their comments.

  5. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Charles Barton
    April 28, 2010 at 9:16 am

    M. Randall, If you had done your homework, you would be aware that there are no nuclear explosions inside nuclear power plants. Steam explosions are remotely likely in some older nuclear designs but very unlikely in recent nuclear plant designs. Hydrogen explosions are also possible in some old and poorly designed nuclear plant, but very unlikely in recent nuclear plant designs. But eve0n if a hydrogen or steam explosion did occure, it would be contained by reactors 8″ thick pressure vessel, and/or by the outer concrete containment dome.

    As for doing our homework, it is quite obvious that you have not done yours, if you had looked either John or my self up on the Internet, you would quickly discover that we are not nuclear plant bosses.

  6. Vote -1 Vote +1Finrod
    April 28, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Puerile fearmongering based on a foundation of lies.

  7. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1John Jenco
    May 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    The problem with the anti-nuclear crowd is that they have so few nuclear incidents supporting their position to choose from (with over 70 million nuclear plant operating hours safely achieved and counting), so they have to resort to picking from a short list of traditional anti-nuclear ‘talking points’ to make their lame case. Don’t encourage them by engaging them in debate. You can’t have an effective argument with someone armed only with personal opinion and fear; it takes knowledge and facts to have an informed debate.

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