Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1036/28939

From The Socialist newspaper, 3 April 2019

40 years after Three Mile Island disaster

Part of the Three Mile Island clean-up effort

Part of the Three Mile Island clean-up effort   (Click to enlarge)

Martin Powell-Davies, Socialist Party national committee

On the morning of 28 March 1979, pumps feeding water into the steam generator at Three Mile Island's No.2 (TMI-2) nuclear reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, failed. Emergency shutdown systems appeared to have worked correctly - but they hadn't.

Like all nuclear power plants, TMI-2 used the heat energy produced by nuclear fission reactions to turn water into steam.

Just like a power station burning coal or gas, the steam pressure then turns a turbine that spins the electrical generator. However, nuclear fission doesn't just generate energy. It also produces dangerous waste products like radioactive caesium, iodine, strontium and plutonium. Some remain highly radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Unlike the later disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, a major release of radioactivity was avoided at TMI-2 - but only just. For 16 hours, plant operators struggled to make sense of their instrument readings. A faulty control panel meant they didn't realise that a safety valve had jammed open, allowing coolant to escape and the reactor core temperature to soar.

By the time they had worked out what was wrong, half of the uranium fuel had melted. The damaged TMI-2 unit had to be permanently closed. It took 14 years and $1 billion to decontaminate the plant by removing two million gallons of radioactive water and putting over a hundred tons of debris and fuel into secure storage.

The nuclear power industry claims nobody suffered health effects from the radioactivity that was released during the TMI-2 incident. However, that is disputed by local cancer sufferers who blame the accident, and the government's attempts to play down the dangers at the time, for their illness.

What's certain is that the Three Mile Island accident dealt a severe blow to the idea that nuclear fission could provide safe, clean energy. The US government was forced to introduce more stringent construction and safety regulations. This put a further squeeze on the profits that could be made from building hugely expensive nuclear power stations.

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, when a fire in the graphite core of a nuclear reactor released radioactive plumes for ten days, fuelled public opposition further. In the USA, over 100 orders for new reactors were cancelled and no new plants were approved until 2012.

'Green' energy?

The advocates of nuclear power then tried to reinvent fission as 'green' energy since, unlike burning fossil fuels, it does not generate the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

However, the 2011 Fukushima disaster then provided another deadly reminder of the disastrous consequences of systems failure in a nuclear power station.

The disaster at Chernobyl was a product of an impatient, unaccountable Stalinist Soviet Union bureaucracy pressuring technicians into a reckless experiment aimed at speeding up repair times.

Fukushima was the product of a reckless private operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, ignoring the risk from tsunamis and earthquakes. But could these risks be avoided if nuclear power was part of a nationalised energy system under workers' management?

A genuine safety culture could reduce risks but, just as at Three Mile Island, the chance of human error and mechanical failure is always present. Even if an accidental release of radiation is avoided, every radioactive reactor eventually has to be decommissioned, at huge cost, when the power station closes.

They can't just be dismantled like an old factory. The radioactive material has to be safely and securely stored for many thousands of years before its contents could be safe to release into the environment.

A 2018 government report estimates the cost of cleaning up just the UK's 17 nuclear sites could be over 200 billion.

Many of the UK's nuclear power plants are already operating beyond their originally planned lifetimes as it is. The Hunterston B reactor in Ayrshire has been out of action ever since 370 hairline cracks were found in its ageing graphite core. They can't be mended so EDF, its private operator, has applied for permission to increase the safety limit to 700 cracks instead!

The fact that only one new UK nuclear power station is under construction, Hinkley Point C in Somerset, is because the economics of nuclear power is now so clearly flawed.

This white elephant, a legacy of New Labour's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's support for the nuclear industry, will, if its technical flaws are overcome, end up being the most expensive power station ever built. The cost will be met by bill payers through a deal that guarantees that EDF will be paid about twice the actual going rate for the new reactor's electricity output.

Not everyone has struck lucky like EDF. Hitachi and Toshiba have pulled out of their plans to build other new nuclear power stations planned for Wales and Cumbria. In Pennsylvania, the remaining Three Mile Island No.1 reactor is itself facing shutdown this year - not through any accident but because it's been making a financial loss.

Socialist policies

Instead of continuing to subsidise risky and expensive nuclear power, urgent investment is needed in the further development of wind, solar and other renewable sources while rapidly improving energy efficiency.

Energy generation and transport industries should be part of a nationalised environmental plan of production. This is the only solution to urgently tackling climate change while also providing skilled jobs, particularly for those presently employed in the nuclear industry.

Austerity-ridden capitalism is unable to make the investment needed to rapidly and safely phase out nuclear power, far less the global plan needed to tackle global climate change. For that, socialist change is needed.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 3 April 2019:


What we think

Corbyn and workers' movement must lead fight for general election and socialist alternative to EU bosses' club


International socialist news and analysis

Mueller report underlines Democrats' weakness

40 years after Three Mile Island disaster

Corporate capitalism jeopardises air safety


News

Cuts and chaos. Enough. General election now!

End Tory cold cruelty: life under austerity in Merthyr

Working families in poverty: fund homes and childcare

Toxic Grenfell fire residue threatens survivors

Poor doors, segregated playgrounds

Probation privatisation failure


Workplace news

Thousands of Honda workers march in Swindon

Greenwich Unite demands workers brought in-house

Well-supported strike against cuts at Bradfield school

Chesterfield hospital privatisation plans

Workplace news in brief


PCS elections

PCS elections: Support socialist candidates


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Socialist change not climate change

Vote for socialist mayor and council candidates

NHS marches in Yorkshire and London

Financing the fightback

Discussion and debate at Leeds Trans Pride

Socialists say we need a workers' Brexit at Young Labour debate

Reclaim the Game book launch


Opinion

The Socialist Inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 3 April 2019   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Nuclear power:

triangleNo to Tory plans for radioactive waste under national parks

triangleHinkley workers win back unpaid wages after sit-in protest

triangleJapan - toxic legacy of the Fukushima disaster

triangleFukushima nuclear disaster - a terrifying legacy

triangleByelections: Break with Labour Blairism wasn't on offer

Energy:

triangleLabour needs socialist policies to solve "climate emergency"

triangleOrganise against climate change, austerity and capitalism

triangleEnergy retail firm collapse hits Tyneside

triangleThem & us

Socialist:

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Trotsky's theory of 'Permanent Revolution'

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: What is the working class?

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: Three years of Corbynism

Climate change:

triangleHow to save the planet? End capitalism; Socialist change

triangleClimate change protest in London on 12.4.19, photo Mary Finch

Electricity:

triangleMovement growing against fracking giant Ineos

Martin Powell-Davies:

triangleVictory: how school strike beat 'academy' privatisers

Historic events

Historic events

3/4/19

Nuclear power

40 years after Three Mile Island disaster

27/3/19

Visteon

Visteon: when factory occupations stayed the hands of the bosses

27/3/19

Miners

Lessons of the heroic 1984-85 Miners' strike

6/3/19

Trotsky

Leon Trotsky's struggle against Stalinism

6/2/19

Iran

40 years since the Iranian revolution: Learning the lessons for today's new working-class struggles

23/1/19

Cuba

Cuban revolution at 60: defend the gains and fight for workers' democracy

16/1/19

Winter of Discontent

The 1979 'Winter of Discontent'

9/1/19

Rosa Luxemburg

Heroic martyrs of German Revolution

12/12/18

Scotland

John Maclean - revolutionary fighter of the working class

14/11/18

War

1918: revolution ends World War One

7/11/18

Mexico

Mexico: The movement of 68 and the massacre of Tlatelolco

31/10/18

Peterloo

Peterloo: "If the people were to rise and smite their enemies, was not this the time?" Samuel Bamford, demonstrator

24/10/18

Shropshire

1821 Cinderloo uprising: "The crowd thought it had nothing else to lose"

10/10/18

Far-right

25 years since 50,000 marched against the far-right threat

12/9/18

Capitalism

10 years since the financial crash - the socialist answer to capitalist crisis

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999