Nuclear industry puts profit before safety
Callum Joyce, Oxford Socialist Party
On 28 March 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in the US suffered a partial meltdown of its reactor core. The release of radioactive material into the environment and the risk of a full meltdown could have rendered a large area of the state uninhabitable. This is the focus of a new Netflix documentary.
The programme reveals how the owners of the plant, General Public Utilities, and its subsidiary, Metropolitan Edison, allegedly destroyed unfavourable safety reports, and then intimidated employees involved in the cleanup to prevent them from raising concerns.
The US government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversaw the cleanup, which was contracted out to construction giant Bechtel. Even the regulator chose to ignore safety concerns!
Not only were companies taking risks with safety, but the government condoned this – unsurprising given the administration of Democrat president Jimmy Carter had been keen to support the growth of the nuclear industry as an alternative to foreign oil and gas.
The documentary shows how the lives of people living in the area were affected, even decades later, by the poor handling of the crisis afterwards. The programme paints a damning picture of the way that private energy companies ruthlessly pursue profit above all other concerns – even when it means risking the safety of thousands of people.
Those who put forward nuclear power as a permanent alternative to fossil fuels must remember the human cost of this potentially dangerous technology. Nuclear energy is no replacement for proper investment in renewable energy, owned and controlled by the public to meet the needs of the majority, not to line the pockets of capitalist shareholders.
As Rick Parks, the whistleblower who exposed many of the safety concerns to the public, put it: “We’ll never have a viable nuclear industry in this country until we take the profit motive out of it. You can’t have a profit motive overriding nuclear safety”. General Public Utilities later merged with First Energy, and continues to operate today, paying just over $1.2 billion to its shareholders in 2021.