Thanks to the release of the new Netflix series Meltdown: Three Mile Island, there has been a lot more chatter online about the accident that altered the trajectory of the nuclear power facility's future forever. Within its episodes, those who were around or a part of the nuclear plant recall various instances of intimidation tactics, cost-cutting measures, and other less-than-ideal circumstances in a workplace as volatile as a facility that handles nuclear power.
From all of that, it's clear as day that a lot was wrong at Three Mile Island leading up to and resulting in the eventual hazardous accident that cemented its place in history. However, were there any actual deaths as a result of the plant's radiation leak? Keep reading to find out.
Were there any deaths as a result of what happened at Three Mile Island?
The core breach at Three Mile Island resulted in a massive environmental and government conundrum that took the combined resources of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the U.S. Department of Energy; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services); and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Despite the media uproar and the de-commissioning of Reactor Unit 2 (where the facility's leak occurred), nobody actually died as a result of the accident or the radiation that came from the facility. According to energy.gov, roughly 2 million people were exposed to radiation from the meltdown, but those numbers don't point toward anything serious in terms of radiation exposure.
Environmentalists concluded after tests that the area’s natural background radiation lies somewhere around 100-125 millirem per year. When radiation leaked from Three Mile Island, there was only a discernible spike of around 1 millirem.
Thankfully, studies of the "air, water, milk, vegetation, soil, and foodstuffs" concluded that "very low levels could be attributed to the accident and that the radioactive release had negligible effects on the physical health of the individuals or the environment," per the site.
What caused the accident at Three Mile Island?
As recounted in the Netflix series Meltdown: Three Mile Island, the radiation leak that stemmed from Unit 2 at the facility can be traced to poorly functioning instruments. On March 28, 1979, plant operators were misled that coolant levels in the reactor were at a normal level when they were in fact dangerously low. The lack of coolant caused a partial meltdown and caused the facility to make national headlines.
What changed as a result of the accident at Three Mile Island?
Although Three Mile Island's meltdown didn't cause any deaths, it did bring about a slew of changes in how the U.S. approaches nuclear power management. Per the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, some of the changes included "Upgrading and strengthening of plant design and equipment requirements," "revamping operator training and staffing requirements," "enhancing emergency preparedness," and "expanding performance‑oriented as well as safety‑oriented inspections," among other things.