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Three Mile Island Revisited

Posted February. 18, 2010 08:21,   


Three Mile Island is located in the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County. The Babcock & Wilcox Company built a nuclear power plant on the island with a capacity of 900,000 kilowatts and began operating it in 1974. Four years later, a second nuclear plant went online. Then on March 28, 1979, the coolant pump of the second plant, which was in its fourth month of operation, went wrong. As the amount of the cooling water (which changed steam in the power plant into water) decreased, steam pressure jumped and destroyed the pipe. Radioactive gases were locked in a containment facility one meter thick that encircled the reactor. The facility protected citizens from being affected by the radioactive materials.

Pregnant women and children were evacuated from Dauphin County, however, and this spurred other residents to move to nearby areas. Then President Jimmy Carter visited the reactor site and said the U.S. would never build another nuclear power plant. After the accident, Babcock and Wilcox closed.

As the nuclear power industry has virtually disappeared in the U.S., the world’s largest nuclear power generation company Westinghouse has handed over management to Toshiba of Japan and kept its head over water by building nuclear plants abroad. Korea, Japan and France have kept building nuclear reactors with their respective technologies. In the 21st century, the U.S. has paid a big price for its aversion to nuclear power. California experienced limited power transmission in 2000 and New York suffered a major blackout in 2003.

After facing a series of difficulties, Washington has changed its mind on nuclear power. The U.S. had a narrow escape from lack of electricity by repairing old nuclear plants. President Barack Obama yesterday said the construction of nuclear power plants will resume in America. Yet the U.S. cannot build reactors by itself since it has not nurtured nuclear power experts for the past 31 years. Korea’s nuclear plants have many features in common with those of the U.S. since they use U.S. technology. In other words, Korea is well positioned to advance into the U.S. market for nuclear power generation. Seoul, however, should not forget the lessons from the Three Mile Island accident to keep the long-awaited renaissance of nuclear power going. A true powerhouse in nuclear power generation should build economical and safe reactors.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)