“We interrupt this program…” These words got my attention 44 years ago today while I was watching television with my family as a child. A broadcast journalist appeared on screen. He started reporting a nuclear accident at an energy plant in Pennsylvania.
I distinctly recall thinking to myself at the time that it was strange and unusual for a breaking news bulletin to be so vague and nebulous. These reports were rare. They were not, however, extremely rare. I’d seen such reports about the weather, assassinations or assassination attempts, riots, terrorist attacks, catastrophes, including plane crashes and other disasters. Reporters typically stated basic facts in the first few sentences before announcing that the TV network would resume regular programming, often in progress, and update audiences in regularly scheduled broadcasts.
Not with what became known as Three Mile Island. CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, as I recall, which I noted in my journal at the time, simply stated that there’d been an accident. He said so gravely, however, as though a catastrophe either loomed or was on the brink of becoming clear. In fact, what became clear is that no one was injured, let alone killed, in the accident, which was—then and now—America’s only serious nuclear accident. In fact, as energy and environmental writer Michael Shellenberger argued in his Forbes essay on nuclear power, what happened at Three Mile Island demonstrably, measurably improved nuclear power operations. Even the History Channel, reporting on Three Mile Island in this summary, admits that, 44 years later:
There are no known health impacts. Several government agencies and independent groups conducted studies, but no adverse effects could be found to correlate to these exposures.”
The fearmongering, hysteria and “panic porn” that became an intrusive part of American and Western science, culture and life, recently during the 2020 pandemic and lockdown, advanced without real objection. No one, especially the nation’s nuclear scientists, spoke out against the hysteria and alarmism. Fake news, smears and insinuations prevailed, starting 44 years ago today.