As the news from Japan continues to pour in, along with conflicting reports, spin and speculation, I kept thinking about another situation that had most of America on the edge of its collective seat - the accident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power plant in Pennsylvania. Although not triggered by a massive earthquake and Tsunami, Three Mile Island did start off with seemingly harmless reports of "possible problems" much the same way as the current story in Japan did - the focus of attention was certainly the 8.9 (now upgraded to 9.0) earthquake and the resultant Tsunami and the incredible devastation that continues to unfold. But as reports kept coming in, the seriousness of the events at the Fukushima Daiichi Power plants became more and more apparent, much the same way it unfolded at Three Mile Island. Then as now, it was anyone's guess as to what was going to happen - and the scenarios ran the gamut.
On this broadcast of Face The Nation from April 1, 1979, Senator Gary Hart, then Chairman of the Senate Sub-committee on Nuclear energy was asked what the potential hazards actually were with the Three Mile Island situation. The broadcast breaks away about 17 minutes in to a bulletin about the arrival of President Carter in Pennsylvania.
George Herman (CBS News Moderator): “Senator Hart, we hear a great deal of reporting from the site of the Three Mile Island nuclear event, some of it seems contradictory, some of it is hard to understand. You’re the Chairman of the Nuclear sub-committee, can you tell us, do you believe that there is still a risk that before this is all over, before the entire incident is finished, that there is the risk of a catastrophic accident?
Sen. Gary Hart: “Yes Mister Herman, I do believe that risk exists. It’s very difficult to quantify because this is a unique occurrence. There are teams of experts, as you know on the scene both private and public officials. They are trying to determine the best course of dealing with this unique situation. But until this situation is dealt with, until the reactor is in what is called a “cold shutdown situation”, the risk you’ve described does exist.”
So the question is raised again just how safe are Nuclear Power Plants. And the answer always seems to be "dunno". They asked it 32 years ago - and they're still asking. It might be safe to assume building your Nuclear facility on or around an active fault line might be a bad idea. At the moment though, there are some who think it's more important to take the argument off the rails by saying Nuclear Power plants are safer because of stepped security against terrorist attacks, skirting the issue of the very real danger of natural disasters. But I guess that strain of logic just doesn't work on some.