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PHOTOS: Remembering the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident

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On Mar. 28, 1979, the most significant nuclear power accident in U.S. history began after a pressure valve failed to close at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa. What followed was an outcry over nuclear power plants and the suspension of many planned nuclear reactors. Owner Chris Crane announced the plant is set to shut down in Sept. 2019.
In the early hours of March 28, 1979, a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island failed to close, launching what was the most significant nuclear power plant accident in the United States. Contaminated radioactive cooling water leaked from the valve into adjoining buildings, leaving the core to dangerously overheat. Fortunately, the health effects were not serious, but the accident led to a wave of anti-nuclear protests and the immediate shutdown of several plants.
In the early hours of March 28, 1979, a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island failed to close, launching what was the most significant nuclear power plant accident in the United States. Contaminated radioactive cooling water leaked from the valve into adjoining buildings, leaving the core to dangerously overheat. Fortunately, the health effects were not serious, but the accident led to a wave of anti-nuclear protests and the immediate shutdown of several plants.
While there were emergency cooling operations in place, those working in the control room misread the readings and shut off the emergency water system and the reactor, yet residual heat was still being released. At the height of the core's temperature, it reached 4,000 degrees, just 1,000 degrees short of meltdown. If it had reached this stage, the effects could have been deadly.
While there were emergency cooling operations in place, those working in the control room misread the readings and shut off the emergency water system and the reactor, yet residual heat was still being released. At the height of the core’s temperature, it reached 4,000 degrees, just 1,000 degrees short of meltdown. If it had reached this stage, the effects could have been deadly.
A sign announces the closing of the observation center for the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, following an accident on Mar. 28, 1979. A pump failed in the reactor cooling system, shutting down the plant and threatening a nuclear meltdown.
A sign announces the closing of the observation center for the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, following an accident on Mar. 28, 1979. A pump failed in the reactor cooling system, shutting down the plant and threatening a nuclear meltdown.
Safety officials checked workers from the Three Mile Island power plant, located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for possible radiation exposure on Mar. 28, 1979.
Safety officials checked workers from the Three Mile Island power plant, located near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for possible radiation exposure on Mar. 28, 1979.
Following the accident, Oran Henderson (r), Pennsylvania's director of the State Council of Civil Defense, led a press conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Mar. 28, 1979. Years after the disaster, in an interview with a local Pennsylvania paper, Henderson said:
Following the accident, Oran Henderson (r), Pennsylvania’s director of the State Council of Civil Defense, led a press conference in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Mar. 28, 1979. Years after the disaster, in an interview with a local Pennsylvania paper, Henderson said: “I recall distinctly, a nuclear [plant accident] plan did not enjoy a very high priority in our scheme of things at the time.”
Pictured is the top portion of reactor Number One at Three Mile Island on the day a nuclear accident occurred. The accident did not result in any deaths but did result in the release of a significant amount of radioactivity into the environment and the partial meltdown of reactor Unit 2.
Pictured is the top portion of reactor Number One at Three Mile Island on the day a nuclear accident occurred. The accident did not result in any deaths but did result in the release of a significant amount of radioactivity into the environment and the partial meltdown of reactor Unit 2.
During the evacuations, a Red Cross volunteer leaned over the table to make sure a young child had everything he needed for lunch on April 4, 1979.
During the evacuations, a Red Cross volunteer leaned over the table to make sure a young child had everything he needed for lunch on April 4, 1979.
Officials evacuated pregnant women and children who lived near the nuclear power plant to a sports arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, despite an investigation claiming that there was no health threat.
Officials evacuated pregnant women and children who lived near the nuclear power plant to a sports arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, despite an investigation claiming that there was no health threat.
President Jimmy Carter (c), wearing protective boots, visited the control room of Three Mile Island on April 1, 1979, just four days after the nuclear accident. He was accompanied by Dr. Harold Denton (l), the director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, and Dick Thornburg, Pennsylvania's 41st governor, who is behind Carter.
President Jimmy Carter (c), wearing protective boots, visited the control room of Three Mile Island on April 1, 1979, just four days after the nuclear accident. He was accompanied by Dr. Harold Denton (l), the director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, and Dick Thornburg, Pennsylvania’s 41st governor, who is behind Carter.
A group of people, including a man dressed as an undertaker, hold up a protest banner in front of the cooling towers at Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in April 1979.
A group of people, including a man dressed as an undertaker, hold up a protest banner in front of the cooling towers at Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in April 1979.
In light of the accident, anti-nuclear activists intensified their fight against nuclear power plants. Demonstrators covered the front steps of Pennsylvania's State Capitol in Harrisburg to urge officials to shut down Three Mile Island on April 8, 1979.
In light of the accident, anti-nuclear activists intensified their fight against nuclear power plants. Demonstrators covered the front steps of Pennsylvania’s State Capitol in Harrisburg to urge officials to shut down Three Mile Island on April 8, 1979.
A worker checks the radioactivity in Middletown, Pennsylvania after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident on Mar. 28, 1979.
A worker checks the radioactivity in Middletown, Pennsylvania after the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident on Mar. 28, 1979.
Chris Becker, a dairy farmer who lived about a mile away from Three Mile Island, underwent a radiation test, scanning for any possible exposure on April 10, 1979, after the nuclear accident.
Chris Becker, a dairy farmer who lived about a mile away from Three Mile Island, underwent a radiation test, scanning for any possible exposure on April 10, 1979, after the nuclear accident.
Thousands of protesters rallied against the nation's dependence on nuclear power in front of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. on May 6, 1979, nearly two months after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. While this protest garnered much support, the largest one occurred in September of 1979 in New York City, where 200,000 people attended the protest.
Thousands of protesters rallied against the nation’s dependence on nuclear power in front of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. on May 6, 1979, nearly two months after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident. While this protest garnered much support, the largest one occurred in September of 1979 in New York City, where 200,000 people attended the protest.
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, anti-nuclear protestors stood across the street from pro-nuclear activists on May 10, 1979.
In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, anti-nuclear protestors stood across the street from pro-nuclear activists on May 10, 1979.
Jane Fonda and her then-husband Tom Hayden spoke out against nuclear power plants at Three Mile Island on Sept. 24, 1979.
Jane Fonda and her then-husband Tom Hayden spoke out against nuclear power plants at Three Mile Island on Sept. 24, 1979.
The Unit-1 reactor, which was unharmed during the accident, didn't resume operation until 1985, while the Unit-2 reactor was never used again. Throughout the country, many of the planned nuclear power plants were canceled and until 2013, there was no ground-breaking on new nuclear reactors at existing power plants since 1977.
The Unit-1 reactor, which was unharmed during the accident, didn’t resume operation until 1985, while the Unit-2 reactor was never used again. Throughout the country, many of the planned nuclear power plants were canceled and until 2013, there was no ground-breaking on new nuclear reactors at existing power plants since 1977.

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