VOICES FROM THREE MILE ISLAND
An Oral History of America's Worst Nuclear Accident
40th Anniversary Release
116 minutes, radio documentary
Directed by Robbie Leppzer
Nationally Broadcast on Public Radio
Originally entitled, EARLY WARNINGS: VOICES FROM THREE MILE ISLAND, this two-hour public radio documentary was first broadcast nationally on 65 public radio stations across the United States in March 1980, on the one-year anniversary of the partial nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. An expanded version of this oral history, VOICES FROM THREE MILE ISLAND: The People Speak Out was published as a book in 1980 by the Crossing Press.
“Robbie Leppzer's chilling, powerful and amazingly thorough compilation of interviews from Three Mile Island pierces the veil of secrecy that has surrounded this disaster for forty years. What Leppzer's devastating series of first-person interviews tells us is what really happened, from the people it really happened to. And they spell it out in horrifying detail that we as a nation and a species can ignore only at our direst peril. These voices from Three Mile Island make for harrowing but utterly compelling listening."
— Harvey Wasserman, co-author KILLING OUR OWN
On March 28, 1979, the worst accident in the history of the commercial nuclear power program in the United States occurred at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, twelve miles outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The most feared reactor accident, a core meltdown, which the nuclear industry has continually assured the public could never happen, almost did happen. A report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that the Three Mile Island plant came within thirty to sixty minutes of a full meltdown. In fact, the core of the reactor did undergo partial melting.
What are the consequences of a nuclear meltdown? In the mid-1960’s, the Atomic Energy Commission reported that, should a meltdown ever happen, it would kill thousands of people outright from a lethal dose of high level radiation; expose hundreds of thousands of people to low level radiation which would bring dramatic increases in leukemia, cancer and birth defects; and contaminate a land area the size of Pennsylvania for over one hundred years.
This audio documentary is not about statistics and figures — it is a very personal one. It is an oral history of America’s near catastrophic nuclear accident as told by the people who lived through it. A montage of voices expressing the human side of this traumatic experience — fear, anger, frustration, and betrayal. Presented in this public radio special are the accounts of residents who lived within the 5-mile evacuation zone around the plant: farmers, doctors, business people, small town officials, and parents. It is told in their own words, without editorial comment.
In Part One, residents describe the first day of the nuclear accident, including experiencing a distinct metallic taste in the air, and dealing with conflicting reports from the local and national media, and government and utility officials concerning the level of danger posed by the nuclear plant. They talk candidly about their fears when the government advised residents to evacuate the area, as well as in the months following the accident, as no one knows how much radiation they were exposed to.
In Part Two, dairy farmer Jane Lee reveals evidence she had collected from local farmers which shows a dramatic increase in birth defects, stillbirths and miscarriages among farm animals. While these incidents peaked directly following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Lee’s testimony, along with interviews with other farmers, shows a disturbing pattern of significant health problems among farm animals, which started appearing after the nuclear plant first began operation.
In light of the 160,000 people who were forced to evacuate their homes in Fukushima, Japan, the experiences of residents who lived through the Three Mile Island nuclear accident are more relevant than ever.