Three Mile Island True Story: Biggest Things The Documentary Leaves Out

 ,The Netflix documentary series Meltdown: Three Mile Island tells of the worst nuclear accident to happen in the United States, but it leaves out some details of the true story. Finding the whole truth about what happened at Three Mile Island is a tricky affair, seeing as much of the information surrounding the near-disaster was obscured from public knowledge. Combining archive footage, television broadcasts, and first-hand accounts, Meltdown dives deeper into the events of the Three Mile Island accident, but the docuseries is still missing some of the known facts.,Three Mile Island was once an operational nuclear power plant owned by Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed) in Middletown, Pennsylvania. The complex, which sits on the Susquehanna River, provided nuclear power with its first reactor beginning in 1974. However, just 90 days after its second reactor was commissioned in 1978, a major problem occurred. A leaking relief valve allowed coolant to escape from the nuclear reactor, drastically increasing temperatures in the core and causing a partial meltdown in what is referred to as TMI-2. Though catastrophic damage was narrowly avoided, dangerously high temperatures and the presence of a hydrogen bubble inside the reactor almost turned it into a nuclear bomb that could have wiped out a portion of the east coast. A series of mistakes and failures by Met-Ed engineers further exacerbated the issue. The clean-up after the accident was found to be just as faulty, as whistleblower Rick Parks revealed that Three Mile Island was cutting corners with safety to save a few bucks in the process.,Related: Chernobyl True Story: What The HBO Miniseries Gets Right (& Changes),The resulting media surrounding the accident at Three Mile Island (which inspired Stranger Things 2) was almost as messy as the incident itself: Met-Ed was found guilty of falsifying reports leading up to the accident and hiding the release of radioactive gases and iodine into the environment, and citizens and government officials alike suspected Met-Ed and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of minimizing the true extent of the meltdown. Fed by the recent release of the movie The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, which told an eerily similar story, the incident at Three Mile Island contributed to the declining opinion of nuclear energy in the United States, with anti-nuclear activists taking to the streets to start the conversation regarding nuclear safety. Now, Meltdown is here to tell the whole story — or most of it. Here is a breakdown of everything the Three Mile Island docuseries leaves out.,The emergency at Three Mile Island began at 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979. However, it would be hours before authorities knew of the near-disaster that was brewing inside. As temperatures continued to rise and the nuclear engineers at Three Mile Island scrambled to fix the issue, the subpar communication surrounding the incident depicted in the Netflix documentary had already begun. A site area emergency wasn’t declared until nearly three hours later, and the subsequent chain of announcements from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to Governor Richard Thornburgh and Lieutenant Governor William Scranton III and then to local authorities took hours. Some local municipalities reported that they didn’t hear of the incident until 10 a.m. or later. With a full meltdown being avoided by only a matter of minutes and with surrounding areas being evacuated, these precious hours could have made the difference between life and death for the citizens near Three Mile Island and beyond. This would be the first of many failures to properly communicate the truth about Three Mile Island and Met-Ed over the course of the incident.,Currently, the radioactive status of the remains of TMI-2 is still unknown. A large portion of the decommissioning was completed between August 1979 and December 1993 — at the cost of roughly $1 billion — but the project was put on hold once the radioactivity reached sufficiently safe levels. The cause for the delay was twofold: waiting to retire both TMI units together would make more economic sense, and the containment building surrounding TMI-2 had become highly radioactive itself. During the decommissioning process, radioactive cooling water leaked into the concrete of the building. Removing the contamination was deemed impractical, so the nuclear site and its contents were encased in concrete and left to decay. The building is currently inaccessible, meaning the radiation levels inside it today are unknown. Some experts warn that TMI-1 could pose its own issues in its current state of decommissioning, as the fuel rods that are being stored in the plant’s spent fuel pool are considered highly radioactive. Though the parent companies of both reactors reassure that the area has been deemed safe, the track record around Three Mile Island has led many to hesitate to trust those at the helm. With the high number of variables surrounding the nuclear plant and its precarious status, the true risk it proposes is currently unknown.,Like Rick Parks, the protagonist of Meltdown, Karen Silkwood was an infamous whistleblower in the world of nuclear energy. Her story was even made into a movie: Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep and Cher. Silkwood worked in a plutonium plant operated by the Kerr-McGee Corporation, and when her concerns regarding radiation were ignored, she decided to go public to The New York Times. Just minutes after leaving her union meeting to meet the Times reporter, however, Silkwood died in a single-car accident. This accident was, and still remains, a mystery, composed of many baffling clues. Key documents regarding Silkwood’s evidence had vanished from her car, there were skidmarks on the road, and damage had been done to her rear bumper in a front-facing collision — all evidence that someone had attempted to run Silkwood off the road.,Related: Our Father’s Brutal Documentary Avoids Crime Documentary’s Worst Trend,However, the large dose of Quaaludes found in her body caused some to believe she could have fallen asleep at the wheel, which is a theory that ignores a good portion of the evidence. Though it was never proven, it is widely believed that Silkwood was killed by those involved with the Kerr-McGee Corporation to prevent her from going public with the information she possessed. In the days prior to the accident, Silkwood also tested positive for plutonium levels that Kerr-McGee could not explain, including the presence of plutonium inside of her work gloves and her digestive tract. The belief that Silkwood was killed for being a whistleblower created an atmosphere of fear inside the nuclear world, causing those like Parks to hesitate before speaking out. To this day, the cause of Silkwood’s car accident remains unclear.,The lasting effects of the accident are still greatly contested. While Met-Ed and the NRC continued to state that the leaked radiation couldn’t have possibly caused lasting health conditions, those who lived in the area during that time believed otherwise — and many still do. As is detailed in Meltdown, Hashimoto’s Disease, thyroid cancer, and lymphoma are just some of the health conditions that residents believed were the result of low-level radiation caused by the Three Mile Island accident. However, the health claims didn’t stop there. Twenty years after the incident, in 1996, more than 2,000 lawsuits were brought up against Three Mile Island regarding health effects and medical damages caused by the incident. But the correlation was never strong enough to prove causation, and all of the cases were rejected by Harrisburg U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo due to a lack of evidence. Met-Ed and its insurer paid out at least $82 million for loss of business revenue, evacuation expenses, and health claims, though no medical damages were ever officially connected to the accident at Three Mile Island.,Following the official clean-up of TMI-2, progress was halted until both reactors could be retired together. TMI-1, which wasn’t involved in the accident, was allowed to operate once more in 1985. Despite changing ownership a few times, TMI-1 operated for almost 35 more years until it officially closed on September 20, 2019, citing a lack of profits caused by competing energy sources. After incidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in the Soviet Union, Americans were no longer sold on nuclear energy, and plants shut down left and right.,Now, both TMI-1 and TMI-2, which are owned by EnergySolutions and Exelon Corp., respectively, are ready to retire. TMI-2 Solutions, the subsidiary of EnergySolutions that is in charge of decommissioning TMI-2, estimates it will be finished as soon as 2037. TMI-1, on the other hand, still has a long way to go before it can be considered fully retired — over half a century, according to its parent company. Federal mandates stipulate that retired nuclear plants must be completely decommissioned 60 years after they close, meaning that Three Mile Island could be considered radioactive until the end of the 21st century, more than 100 years after the events laid out in Meltdown: Three Mile Island,Next: Chernobyl: Why Emily Watson’s Character Was Created Just For The Show