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On Three Mile Island Meltdown Anniversary, ID Considers Nuclear Future

Nuclear waste from the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 made its way to Idaho for storage. (Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Flickr)
Nuclear waste from the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 made its way to Idaho for storage. (Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Flickr)
March 27, 2020

BOISE, Idaho - Saturday is the 41st anniversary of the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Experts say there are lessons in the incident, including for Idaho, where waste from the plant eventually ended up.

Associate Professor of English and Sustainability at Stony Brook University Heidi Hutner is the director of the documentary "Accidents Can Happen: The Women of Three Mile Island," which features four women left in the dark about the accident, inspiring them to join the anti-nuclear movement.

Hutner sees a lot of parallels between 1979 and now. She hopes Three Mile Island can be instructive.

"Because we still have many nuclear power plants operating and there's talk about building new nuclear power plants, I think it's essential that we look back at how that was handled - before, during and after - and be sure we don't replicate those errors," says Hutner.

At the Idaho National Laboratory, a first-of-its-kind nuclear power plant project - involving 12 small, modular reactors submerged in a single pool of water - has been proposed and is awaiting federal approval.

Executive Director of the Snake River Alliance Holly Harris says the proposed project from Oregon-based company NuScale would mostly provide power out of state.

She says the project comes with a lot of risks since it sits above the Snake River aquifer, which provides drinking water for about 300,000 Idahoans, and the nuclear industry has yet to come up with a long-term storage solution for nuclear waste.

Harris adds that renewable energy is less expensive, cleaner and more reliable than nuclear, and that she believes NuScale is experimenting with the Gem State.

"Idahoans are expected to bear this burden just as they were asked to do it or forced to do it 40 years ago," says Harris.

Hutner says another parallel with Three Mile Island is that the public still often is left out of the loop. She says it's time to start listening to affected communities.

"Who gets to decide what kind of energy we use?" asks Hutner. "Who makes the decisions? Is it the local people who will be impacted or is it a larger industry that stands to make a lot of money?"

Disclosure: Snake River Alliance contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Nuclear Waste. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID