Mile Island: The Inside Story
The Three Mile Island Unit 2 Nuclear Power Plant
2.1.The TMI cooling towers cast noon shadows,
April 10, 1979.
Nuclear power plants in the United States are
usually named after the place where they are sited. The Three Mile
Island nuclear power plant comprised two complete installations
adjoining each other on a like-named island in the Susquehanna River,
about ten miles (15 km) south of Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania.
Metropolitan Edison, a subsidiary of General Public Utilities,
began construction of TMI-1 at the north end of the island in 1968,
and of TMI-2 in 1969, just south of TMI-1. TMI-1 was completed and
began generating electricity in 1974, and continues in operation
today. It has been a relatively trouble-free facility, setting recent
records for time between unscheduled shutdowns.
2.2. The Three Mile Island nuclear
power plants are about 10 miles (15 km) southeast
of Harrisburg, and 75 miles (120 km) west of Philadelphia
and north of Washington, D.C.
TMI-2, on the contrary, encountered construction delays and then
repeated unscheduled shutdowns from the time it began operation
in April 1978. The reactor’s operators, struggling with its
faulty performance, were led to falsify operational data in order
to avoid continual reports to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
and the further interruptions of the reactor’s operation the
Commission might have required (ref. 27, pp. 71-73; ref. 28, pp.
The accident on March 28, 1979, seemed at its inception just one
more glitch in an operation that had yet to become smooth. Partly
for that reason, the operators were misled into actions that turned
the glitch into a major accident that wrecked the TMI-2 reactor,
traumatized the surrounding population, and drew the attention of
the entire world.