Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Conspiracy at Three Mile Island…

with one comment

I wrote this in response to a comment over at Brave New Climate (shameless plug), but I thought it was quite a nice little post, so as not to waste it, I’ll re-post it.

PS: Sorry about my lack of blog activity lately, sometimes real life seems to eat up my time. Extra apologies, especially, if you’ve posted comments that the software has kept from being posted pending manual moderator approval, and therefore your comments haven’t been getting through.

Ah, the old Three Mile Island conspiracy theory, the notion that there were enormous amounts of radioactivity released, and people who experienced acute radiation poisoning, that was somehow covered up.

Let’s look, for a moment, at the Chernobyl disaster. When the Chernobyl disaster happened, we didn’t see the Soviet premier calling up Reagan to tell him all about this catastrophic accident and large release of radioactivity, did we? Of course, they tried to keep it a secret.
So, how did we in the industrialised world find out about the Chernobyl accident and this large release of radioactivity? We found out about it when all the radiological sensors and alarms started going off at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden.

As another example, we all know today that it is possible, if you live in an area of relatively uranium-rich geology, for significant amounts of radioactivity in the form of radon to leach into your basement naturally from the surrounding rock.
But how was this radon issue first discovered? It was discovered when a person employed at a nuclear power station in the United States kept setting off the radiological sensors when he arrived at work every day.

Those incidents show you just how sensitive the detectors and monitors used at facilities like nuclear power plants are.

In the modern world, if there is some sort of massive release of radioactivity into the atmosphere it is impossible to hide it or to cover it up.

If this massive release of radioactivity at TMI isn’t just a myth, then you would have recorded clear evidence of it on every bit of photographic film for miles around. After the accident, all such photographic film was collected and analysed by Kodak, and no such evidence was found.

There are many other nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania and neighbouring states which aren’t too far away from TMI. They would have recorded real evidence of a large cloud of radioactivity in the environment, if it was really present to that extent.

You’d record real evidence of it anywhere where photographic film is stored or used. You’d record it at every nuclear power plant, or anywhere else where radioactive materials are stored or used where health physics controls are implemented. You’d record real evidence of it anywhere where medical or industrial X-ray images are made. You’d record it anywhere where radioactivity is used for scientific or medical purposes. You’d record it everywhere where particle detectors are used for physics experiments. You’d maybe even detect it on every old duck-and-cover civil defence radiological detector that someone might have had laying around as an unpleasant relic of history.

But no such real physical recorded evidence to support the theory was ever recorded, anywhere. People went looking for it, but it wasn’t there.

There are people who claim they got sick as a result of the Three Mile Island accident, who claim that they exhibited symptoms consistent with acute radiation poisoning, and massive doses of ionising radiation.

There are also people who claim that they have been made sick by witches who put a curse on them – once upon a time, upon hearing these stories, we’d have them tell us the identity of the witch so the witch could then be tortured and murdered, based on these stories.

There are people who tell stories about how they’ve been beamed aboard the extraterrestrial flying saucer, and sexually molested by the aliens – but once again, as with the above examples, there are mere stories but there is no actual real evidence that stands up to scientific enquiry.

Shortly after the TMI accident, people like Helen Caldicott went and gathered up local residents and described to them the scary sounding symptopms of acute radiation poisoning from acute exposure to massive doses of ionising radiation, and implied that that’s what would happen to them. With that kind of fear and stress, it’s no surprise that we can see mass hysteria, and we can see people who say that they think they might be starting to exhibit those symptoms that they’ve been told about.

But instruments and detectors and photographic films and thermoluminescent dosimeter crystals aren’t subject to fear, panic and mass hysteria – and they recorded nothing.

A common claim of TMI conspiracy theorists such as Caldicott is that longer lived radionuclides, such as Cs-137, Sr-90, Pu-239 (or pick your favourite moderate-to-long half-life well-known reactor-produced radionuclide) were released into the environment at TMI, not just short-lived gaseous fission products.

But if such nuclides were released, you could go and take some soil from TMI, and physically show the evidence of such release, because those radionuclides would still, mostly, be there. They can show us real, undeniable, physical evidence today, if that hypothesis is true. But that evidence is never forthcoming.

Written by Luke Weston

October 3, 2009 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. What?! Being reasonable and factual about TMI? How dare you take all the fun out of conspiracy theories?



    October 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm

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