We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Sustainable Energy

A Look Back at Three Mile Island

The presidential commission investigating the Three Mile Island accident learned that the problems rested with people, not technology.

Slideshow: March 29 of this year marked the 30th anniversary of the meltdown at the second of two reactors built at Three Mile Island. Metropolitan Edison began construction of the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station in the 1960s. The first unit went online in 1974 and TMI-2 followed four years later.
Slideshow: Located just south of Harrisburg, PA on a long, thin island in the Susquehanna River the reactor facility is surrounded by small towns and farmland. In this aerial view taken two weeks after the accident, TMI-2 and its two cooling towers are towards the bottom.
Slideshow: The large cooling towers at Three Mile Island came to symbolize the accident but contrary to popular belief the towers were not the source of the radioactivity released from the facility during the accident.
Slideshow: A Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspector looks at meters in the control room at TMI-2. An overloaded alarm system was partially to blame for the Met-Ed technicians’ failure to prevent a minor malfunction–a stuck relief valve–from turning into a major disaster.
Slideshow: Officials nearly ordered a complete evacuation of the areas around Three Mile Island but ultimately decided against it. Here, a local resident is shown with the thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) used to measure radiation exposure in the surrounding towns.
Slideshow: The accident at TMI provoked near-panic throughout the nation, prompting President Jimmy Carter to visit the site three days after the crisis began. The presidential motorcade is here seen leaving the area following the inspection.
Slideshow: Protestors rally at the Pennsylvania Capitol shortly after the accident. The accident at TMI energized an already growing anti-nuclear movement.
Slideshow: President Carter followed by John Kemeny, whom Carter appointed to head the commission investigating the accident. Kemeny was a noted computer scientist (he codeveloped the BASIC programming language) and administrator (he was then president of Dartmouth College), but had no particular background in nuclear power and admitted in his essay for TR that the appointment surprised no one more than himself.
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.