1979 Accident

Scott Portzline has kept watch on security issues at Three Mile Island for 25 years. 

Updates on


On March 30, 1979, Governor Richard Thornburgh recommended an evacuation for preschool children and pregnant women living within five miles of Three Mile Island (“TMI”). Data collected since the meltdown clearly demonstrate a significant nexus between radiation exposure and adverse health impacts to women and children.

A great deal of radiation was indeed released by the core melt at TMI. The President's Commission estimated about 15 million curies of radiation were released into the atmosphere. A review of dose assessments, conducted by Dr. Jan Beyea, (National Audubon Society; 1984) estimated that from 276 to 63,000 person-rem were delivered to the general population within 50 miles of TMI. David Lochbaum of the Union of Concern Scientists, estimated between 40 million curies and 100 million curies escaped during the Accident.

  • 1979-1988: Katagiri Health Surveys begin and involve 250 residents living around Three Mile Island. This field research documented increased cancer incidences and moralities in population pockets exposed by radioactive plumes.
  • March, 1982, The American Journal of Public Health reported, “During the first two quarters of 1978, the neonatal mortality rate within a ten- mile radius of Three Mile Island was 8.6 and 7.6 per 1,000 live births, respectively. During the first quarter of 1979, following the startup of accident prone Unit 2, the rate jumped to 17.2; it increased to 19.3 in the quarter following the accident at TMI and returned to 7.8 and 9.3, respectively, in the last two quarters of 1979.” (Dr. Gordon MacLeod, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Health)
  • Penn State Professor Winston Richards reported, "Infant mortality for Dauphin County, while average in 1978, becomes significantly above average in 1980.”
  • 1984: The first Voluntary Community Health Study was undertaken by a group of local residents trained by Marjorie Aamodt. That study found a 600 percent cancer death rate increase for three locations on the west shore of TMI directly in the plumes' pathway. The data were independently verified by experts from the TMI Public Health Fund.
  • 1985: Jane Lee surveyed 409 families living in a housing development five miles from TMI. Lee documented 23 cancer deaths, 45 cancer incidences, 53 benign tumors, 31 miscarriages, stillbirths and deformities, and 204 cases of respiratory problems.
  • By 1985, TMI’s owners and builders had paid more than $14 million for out-of-court settlements of personal injury lawsuits including $12.250 million paid to 280 plaintiffs and Orphans Court Cases.
  • August, 1985: Marc Sheaffer, a psychologist at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, released a study linking TMI-related stress with immunity impairments.
  • August, 1987: Prof. James Rooney and Prof. Sandy Prince of Embury of Penn State University-Harrisburg reported that “chronically elevated levels of psychological stress” have existed among Middletown residents since the Accident.
  • April, 1988: Andrew Baum, professor of medical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda discussed the results of his research on TMI residents in Psychology Today. “When we compared groups of people living near Three Mile Island with a similar group elsewhere, we found that the Three Mile Island group reported more physical complaints, such as headaches and back pain, as well as more anxiety and depression. We also uncovered long- term changes in levels of hormones...These hormones affect various bodily functions, including muscle tension, cardiovascular activity, overall metabolic and immune-system function...”
  • James Fenwick, a researcher at Millersville University, found statistically significant increases of kidney, renal, pelvis and ovarian cancer in women. (April, 1998)
  • June, 1991: Columbia University’s Health Study (Susser-Hatch) published results of their findings in the American Journal of Public Health. The study actually shows a more than doubling of all observed cancers after the accident at TMI-2, including: lymphoma, leukemia, colon and the hormonal category of breast, endometrium, ovary, prostate and testis. For leukemia and lung cancers in the six to 12 km distance, the number observed was almost four times greater. In the 0-six km range, colon cancer was four times greater. The study found “a statistically significant relationship between incidence rates after the accident and residential proximity to the plant.”
  • August, 1996: A study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel-Hill, authored by Dr. Steven Wing, reviewed the Susser-Hatch (Columbia University) study released in June 1991. Dr. Wing reported “...there were reports of erythema, hair loss, vomiting, and pet death near TMI at the time of the accident...Accident doses were positively associated with cancer incidence. Associations were largest for leukemia, intermediate for lung cancer, and smallest for all cancers combined...Inhaled radionuclide contamination could differentially impact lung cancers, which show a clear dose-related increase.
  • By 1996, the plant's owners, codefendants and insurers have paid over $80 million in health, economic and evacuation claims, including a $1.1 million settlement for a baby born with Down's Syndrome.
  • Thyroid cancer, 1995-2002: Dr. Roger Levin, chief division of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, PinnacleHealth System in Harrisburg, and clinical associate professor of surgery, Penn State College of Medicine. Findings: In reviewing state health data, Levin found more thyroid cancer cases than expected in York County for every year except one between 1995 and 2002. One plausible reason could be people were exposed to radiation during the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, he said.

Eric Epstein, Chairman, Three Mile Island Alert 4100 Hillsdale Road
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Mr. Epstein is the Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert,
Inc., (tmia.com), a safe-energy organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded in 1977. TMIA monitors Peach Bottom, Susquehanna, and Three Mile Island nuclear generating


Dr. Glatstein,

I was just sent the New England Journal of Medicine piece entitled: "Short-term and Long-term Health Risks of Nuclear-Power-Plant Accidents." (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1103676?query=featured_home). You are listed as one of the authors.


 By Russell Dupree


 Three Mile Island and the Vigilant Professor

    Thirty years ago, April 1, 1979, on the rooftop of a building at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, a nuclear radiation recording device went from being relatively quiescent to rapidly recording extremely high levels of beta radiation, 100 times the normal background levels.

    The equipment had been set up by USM physics professor Charles Armentrout a few days earlier as a teaching project for his students to see if any fission products from the Three Mile Island power plant accident could be detected in Maine. It was a rainy Sunday, five days after the partial meltdown at the power plant just southeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


By Victor Gilinsky

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

March 23, 2009


Shortly after I arrived at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)'s headquarters in Washington, D.C., at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, I got a call from the commission's emergency center in Bethesda, Md.

The number two reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania had declared a general emergency.

There weren't supposed to be serious accidents at nuclear power plants and having to deal with one led to some, let us say, out-of-the-ordinary, and even absurd, behavior.


Three Mile Island Alert Chairman Eric Epstein faces off with Nuclear Energy Institute vice president of communications Scott Peterson in a video debate on the state of the nuclear industry. 

The discussion between Epstein and Peterson is moderated by Susan McGinnis of CleanSkies TV, and follows a news presentation of what happened at Three Mile Island's Unit 2 reactor on March 28, 1979. 

Epstein emphasizes the unanswered questions haunting the nuclear industry: What to do with the waste, where to find the water to run the plants, and why private investment won't support the industry. Industry advocate Peterson calls the 1979 accident a "controlled release" of radiation and insists the market will support industry growth. 

To view the program, go to: 


Find the link button to CleanSkies Sunday and then click on the video program on Three Mile Island. 


Accident Dose Assessments 




Nuclear engineer and long-time industry executive, Arnie Gundersen gives a talk on his calculations of the amount of radiation released during the accident at Three Mile Island.  Mr. Gundersen's calculations differ from those of the NRC's and official industry estimates.


TMI & Health Effects

Part 1:





By Marlene Lang 


Mary Osborn Ouassiai still calls it home. Her house behind the WITF television station building in Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Pa., overlooks a valley that slopes down several miles toward the Susquehanna River. 

She can see the cooling  towers on Three Mile Island from her driveway; the same driveway she walked across on March 28, 1979 to put her 9-year-old daughter on the school bus. She looks out the same windows she looked out of that day, and the days following, holding her son, 2, and wondering if her family and neighbors were being told the truth about the danger to which they had been exposed. 




Testimony of Peter A. Bradford 

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works 

Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety 

March 24, 2009 



I’d like to begin with a review of the status of nuclear power and nuclear regulation the day before the 

accident at Three Mile Island.  As of that time, the NRC’s licensing process, maligned though it often was, 

had issued more licenses than the next five nations combined, though half of the construction permit 

recipients did not complete their power plants.