April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
It comes as Germany, which is phasing out all its reactors, has asked Belgium to shut two of its nukes because of the threat of terrorism.
And it makes us remember the second and third biggest lies told us by the atomic power industry: that no commercial nuke could explode, and that no one would be harmed by reactor fallout.
Prior to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, there was at least one minor explosion (on March 28, 1979) at Three Mile Island (TMI) in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, TMI Unit 2’s containment dome was uniquely solid. The site is in the flight path of the Harrisburg airport. Citizen activists had demanded Unit 2’s containment be able to withstand a jet crash. So they forced construction upgrades that may have saved millions of lives when the reactor was stretched to its limits.
TMI’s owners long denied there was a melt-down at all. But robot cameras later showed otherwise. The industry still denies anyone was harmed by TMI’s fallout. But the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Baltimore News-American reported that downwind farm and wild animals died in horrifying droves. Parallel reports by researcher Tim Mousseau are now coming from areas downwind from Chernobyl.
Village Voice reporter Anna Mayo (recently deceased and greatly missed), photographer Bob Del Tredici and filmmaker Robbie Leppzer all documented TMI’s immense human toll. In 1980, I interviewed dozens of local downwinders enduring radiation-related illnesses including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, stroke, sterility, birth defects and Down’s Syndrome.
Recent studies by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen indicate TMI2’s containment may have cracked, releasing far more radiation than generally suspected. Even now, nobody knows exactly how much did escape, what it consisted of, where it went or who was impacted. TMI’s owners have quietly paid at least $15 million in damages to downwinder families, including at least some payments for Down’s Syndrome.