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FLASHBACK: The Three Mile Island Accident, Yes, People Suffered
NWJ: Welcome to the Fairewinds Energy Education Podcast for Thursday, August 15th. Today I am joined by Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer for Fairewinds, and the Fairewinds team: Samantha Donalds and Lucas Hixson. I’m Nathaniel White-Joyal.
AG: Hi, Nat. Thanks for having this podcast today and having me and the Fairewinds team on to read onto the record some really important information. Last weekend, Maggie and I were interviewing a person who was very, very familiar with the nuclear accident at TMI. And we got some information which I hadn’t seen before. The information was eye-witness accounts of what people experienced, what they felt, what they saw after the Three Mile Island accident. And I wanted to use the podcast today to get that on the record. It’s important that people realize that people were injured after Three Mile Island. People did die after Three Mile Island. You know, when you go up on the Nuclear Regulatory site, they’ll say that there were no serious injuries after the Three Mile Island accident, but yet these eye-witness accounts that we’re about to read onto the record are proof that in fact there were very real symptoms. So I’m doing this for two reasons. One is to get the historical record on Three Mile Island; but secondly is to let our friends know in Japan that the experiences they’re feeling are real. These feelings are not in your head that your government would like you to believe. But these are very real symptoms from high exposures to radiation which you received after the accident. The nuclear industry repeatedly says that no one has ever died from nuclear power. But really what’s happening here is that eye witness accounts like these are being discounted by the nuclear industry. In some cases, witnesses have actually been paid off to be quiet. And once they’ve signed a non-disclosure, those experiences are ignored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry. Well, without further ado, I’d like to read to you just one eye witness account of the accident at Three Mile Island. Eye witness number 1 was a mechanic who lived about four miles from the nuclear accident. And here’s what he had to say:
“On Thursday, March 29th, I was working all day with my son in our garage. The garage doors were open. That night when I took a shower, my face, neck and hands looked like I was at the seashore and gotten burned real bad. I felt nauseous. My eyes were red and burning. I felt like I was looking through water. Friday morning when I got out of bed, my lips and nose were blistered and my throat and the inside of my chest felt like they were on fire. It tasted like burning galvanized steel. My son had similar experiences. He was 22 years old at the time. On Friday, we decided to evacuate. While packing our truck, a township police officer in a closed car shouted over his loudspeaker system, ‘Bill, don’t breathe this air. Get inside.’ We spent the first night in Mechanicsburg with relatives. We convinced other family members to go with us and travel to Front Royal, Virginia, on Saturday. We stayed at a campground in Front Royal for about one week. During this time, I experienced severe diarrhea that caused rectal bleeding. We took one of our dogs with us – a German Shepherd female. Following our arrival in Virginia, the dog passed only blood from the rectum and bled from the nose and mouth. When we returned home, we went in the garage first and found our male German Shepherd had died. His eyes were milky white. We had provided about 100 pounds of food and 50 gallons of water. However, he had only drunk water before he died. We had five cats that lived in a box on the back porch. All but one was dead. All the cats had milky white eyes. The one living cat had one eye that was milky white. Skin grew over this eye during the following weeks. This cat lived for about six months after the accident. She had kittens prior to her death. The kittens were born dead and hairless. I should also note that we noted a similar metallic taste when we entered our home after the evacuation. My son and I have both experienced hair loss. Mine was on my head, arms, legs and torso. This hair has regrown. My son has lost his hair on his arms and torso, which also regrew. In 1981, a sore developed on my leg. The sore remained for two years, healing after we moved. The affected area is still detectable with faint discoloration. Also in 1981, my wife was diagnosed as having paroxysmal tachycardia and in 1982, as having an underactive thyroid. I also experienced problems with my heart. In the spring following the accident, our walnut trees did not produce any leaves and there were no walnuts.”
NWJ: Thank you, Arnie. And now Lucas Hixson will read us another account of the Three Mile Island accident.
LH: “My residence is approximately two to three miles southwest of Three Mile Island and is at a high elevation. On Monday evening, April 2, 1979, after returning from West Virginia, where I had evacuated with my family, I worked outside in my camper from approximately 6 until 7 p.m. My family stayed inside. When my wife called me in for supper, my skin was burning. My face, arms and hands were reddened and remained that way for about 12 hours. I noticed a metallic taste and I felt nauseous. I felt funny in the head. I took a shower that evening before going to bed. Since I had a head cold, I went to the doctor’s the next day. I told my doctor about my experiences the previous evening. He read from a book what symptoms are related to radiation exposure. We noted that these symptoms matched what I had experienced; however, the doctor reassured me that nothing had come out of the plant.”
NWJ: Thank you, Lucas. This next account, read by Samantha Donalds, is from a widow who could not afford to evacuate the area after the accident.
SD: “Friday, March 30th, 1979. I was out of bed and decided to shake out a throw rug. I went out to the porch. It sounded as if it was raining. The sound appeared to be in the trees. I could not see any rain so I reached out beyond the porch roof to try to feel it. I did not feel any rain on my hands or arms. I was extremely puzzled. I was impressed by the stillness, except for the sound of rain. There were no sounds of birds or other animals to which we are accustomed.”
NWJ: Thank you, Samantha. This next account is from a couple who had stepped outside to take a walk after the accident.
LH: “On Wednesday evening, March 28th, 1979, unaware of any problems at the Three Mile Island plants, my wife and I were outside in the evening to take a walk on our street. The walk lasted approximately 10 minutes. But later that evening, my eyes began to water and burn and continued watering throughout the entire night. A few days later, a Three Mile Island worker who was a neighbor and who evacuated early on the first day of the accident, returned over the weekend to warn us other neighbors to evacuate.”
NWJ: And now the account of a farmer from just two miles away from the power plant.
LH: “I have lived in this area all my life. My family has farmed here since 1912. I was inside my house on the day of the accident and stayed in most of the time. I still received a rash on the back of my ear and down the side of my face ever since the crypton venting began. The leaves on my garlic plants curled tightly and the plants died. Ever since the accident, I can no longer grow clover seed because the clover yields so few seeds. In 1981, the last year I grew clover, there were only up to 10 seeds per stem, whereas I used to get about 75 to 125 seeds per stem before the accident. This problem has also affected other farmers in my area, but it is not a problem on farms at a greater distance, more than 12 or 15 miles away from the Three Mile Island plants. I attribute the decrease in seed production to the disappearance of bumblebees that pollinate clover.
NWJ: This next testimony is from the wife of a cattle farmer whose husband refused to leave because he wouldn’t give up caring for the animals.
SD: “On Friday evening, March 30th, 1979, I was standing on the front porch of my home. My home faces south. It was raining and the wind was blowing. All of a sudden, the cat that had been let out began to howl in a most unusual way. I had never heard a sound like that from this or any other cat. I called the cat by name; however, it did not come home. From the direction of the howling, I could tell that the cat was under the porch. I went over to the banister and leaned over to call the cat again. While standing in this position at the east side of the porch, I experienced a most unusual sequence of events. Suddenly, the wind stopped. There was a movement in the limbs of the trees next to the porch and a wave of heat engulfed me. The gust of heat brought the rain over me. Then the wind started again. This all happened in about 1 minute. I was so startled that I went in, taking the cat who had by now come up on the porch. I wiped the cat’s wet coat and then washed my hands and face. My face felt tingly. About an hour later, I washed my face again and wiped my arms and legs with a towel. I noticed that my arms and face were pink. I applied a lotion because my skin felt tingly. On Saturday morning, my skin was a darker pink and there was an itch at the front of my scalp. This was the only part of my scalp that was not covered by a scarf. When I went to church on Sunday, my friends commented that I looked healthy and sunburned. On this day, hard little lumps a little bigger than a pinhead appeared on my forehead and into the hairline. On Tuesday, my scalp felt prickly and tingly, so I washed my hair again, shampooing it three times, which is more than I customarily do. About three weeks later, I noticed that a lot of gray hairs had appeared across the front of my hair. When I washed my hair that week, my comb was full of hair. The next week, the loss of hair increased. In the subsequent weeks, the skin on my forearms and neck turned darker and was scaly. This condition lasted for several years. There is, however, some permanent discoloration; however, it is not prominent. My forearms were and continue to be very sensitive to the sun, becoming itchy with exposure. I try to avoid sunlight. I have also noticed that if my arms are injured, the bruise will last longer than was normal for me prior to the events described above. A number of spots have appeared on my face and chest. These appeared after the tiny, hard bumps went away. Six of these spots or pimples remain. Some of the pimples have yellow centers. The size of these pimples appears to have diminished somewhat and they are not sensitive; however, I am uncomfortable with this condition of my skin, unlike its condition prior to the events described above. Of greatest concern to me presently is the loss of a function of a kidney. Towards the end of November, 1983, I was in renal failure. My doctor described my condition as an unusual case. He stated that one of my kidneys had died. I was in Holy Spirit Hospital under the care of Doctors Bean and Eaton. I have not fully recovered and I have not been able to resume my customary social and household activities. I live on a farm with my husband. We were not able to evacuate during the accident, although I wanted to leave, because my husband would not ask anyone else to stay to do his job of caring for the animals. Despite our continual attention to the cattle, we experienced the first deformed calves ever born on our farm the following spring. The calves heads hung to one side until they were six months old. Their necks appeared twisted. I also noted that the Norway Maple by our home had deformed leaves which were curled at the edges.”
NWJ: A wife and mother of two who lived 6-1/2 miles from Three Mile Island had these experiences to share.
SD: “I reside at 6-1/2 miles north northwest of Three Mile Island. This was also my residence at the time of the Three Mile Island accident, as well as that of my husband, son and daughter. On the morning of March 28, 1979, my husband was putting his tools into his truck. It was 6 o’clock in the morning when he came in to ask me to go out and smell the air. I wondered to myself whether it would be the Hershey’s chocolate smell or the aroma of Capital Bakers Bread. This time, the air was different. The air smelled like metal. It was overwhelming. I could taste metal in my mouth. It seemed as though every taste bud in my mouth could taste this metal.
NWJ: This last account comes from a dentist whose x-ray film was destroyed by the radiation released from the accident.
LH: “This information concerns my experiences on Wednesday and Thursday, March 28th and March 29th, 1979. On those days, I discovered that the x-ray films in my dental office were fogged. The film fogging can be described as alternately light and dark banding across the entire film and approximately 75 films were fogged, even though my office is a stone building located 5 miles northwest of Three Mile Island. On Wednesday and Thursday, March 28th and March 29th, 1979, I experienced a metallish taste and queasy stomach. I felt funny and expressed this feeling to my receptionist, but at this time I had no knowledge of the accident at Three Mile Island.”
AG: These eye witness accounts are posted along with the podcast on the website. In addition to these eye witness accounts, there’s also a letter from General Public Utilities, the company that owned Three Mile Island, that admits that it paid off witnesses in order to gain nondisclosure agreements. Almost $25 million was paid off in insurance settlements to people who then were not allowed to discuss their injuries in ongoing litigation. So when you hear the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear industry say that no one was hurt after Three Mile Island, there are these and other anecdotal reports that have been compiled by many people. The message here to the people in Fukushima Daiichi is that you’re not alone. Almost 35 years ago, people experienced the same symptoms you are experiencing. Reports from TMI and Chernobyl talk about the disappearance of birds and the disappearance of bees, the metallic taste, the noise that sounds like rain when it’s not raining. All of those experiences are not in your head, people of Japan. They are in fact real and caused by the radiation exposures you received. We’d like on the Fairewinds site to collect anecdotal evidence from people in the Fukushima Daiichi prefecture and throughout Japan who have experienced these types of problems and who are being ignored by authorities. There’s also organizations within Japan who are also attempting to gather this anecdotal evidence and compile it. You’re not alone. Please reach out and provide us with this information so that we can continue the good science that goes with it.
NWJ: I would like to thank the entire Fairewinds team today. Thank you, Lucas and Samantha for reading. Thank you Arnie and Maggie for making this work possible. My name is Nathaniel White-Joyal and thank you for tuning in today. Hopefully you’ll take the time to tune in next week also. This podcast has been a production of Fairewinds Energy Education.