Can You Visit Three Mile Island?


The Three Mile Island (TMI) incident is the worst civilian nuclear accident to have occurred in the U.S. Though the incident did not result in any casualties or reach the catastrophic scale of Chornobyl, the community in the area remains permanently scarred. But is TMI safe today?

Three Mile Island is not open for the public to visit. Tourists visiting the area must be content with viewing what remains of the nuclear plant from the adjacent road. Radioactive levels on the island and surrounding area are far from life-threatening. Thousands of people still live in the town next to TMI. 

Is Three Mile Island And Surrounding Area Safe To Visit?

Fortunately, TMI and its surrounding area are safe to visit today. Despite the events of 1979, which saw the TMI plant leak radioactive iodine gases for several days and almost ended in catastrophe, the area and its surroundings are now perfectly safe for human lives.

No one disputes the fact that there was some radioactive leakage as a result of the incident on TMI; however, to this day, people debate the actual levels of radiation that were leaked from the nuclear plant in the days following the incident’s beginnings.

Nevertheless, it is clear that just a few weeks following the incident, no significant radiation levels were detected, so if there ever was any radioactive contamination, it is no longer present in the area. The staff who was present during the event never suffered from radiation poisoning. 

Is Three Mile Island Still Radioactive?

Technically speaking, TMI is still radioactive to this day; however, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has deemed the radiation levels to not be dangerous to nature and its living organisms.

In truth, though it is unknown how high radiation levels got in the first few days of the ordeal, radiation levels in the nuclear plant’s vicinity were certainly not life-threatening just a few weeks after the incident. 

As a result of this incident, the U.S. government had to proceed with a clean-up process, which was only finished fourteen years (end of 1993) after. The many people who worked on this clean-up operation have not been exposed to radiation poisoning.

Is Three Mile Island Open To The Public?

Despite its popularity gain due to the near catastrophic events that unfolded in the late 70s, TMI has not become a tourist attraction. On the contrary, it is difficult and not encouraged to approach the gated area with a camera, as security guards could give you trouble. 

The site is not developed for tourist viewing, so there are few interesting things to see. However, tourists visiting the town can visualize the past and feel unsettled by what occurred there. 

People who have visited the area say that the best thing to do is view the island from the road. There is a place you can stop at that was previously TMI’s visitor center, where you can find a historical marker that briefly explains what happened at TMI.

Does Anyone Live Around Three Mile Island?

As far as people can tell, no one lives on TMI as it is an industrial area not fit for residence. But people still live near TMI in Middletown, the inhabited area closest to the island, a mere three miles away. 

Some days after the incident, the governor at the time, Richard Thornburgh, was convinced to call for the evacuation of the area, which resulted in the departure of one hundred and forty thousand people from the general area. 

As of 2020, an estimated nine and a half thousand people lived in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Things are very much looking like they are back to normal, although the nuclear incident has undoubtedly left a permanent scar on the community.

Did People Die Because Of The Three Mile Island Accident?

There are still debates regarding the effects of the incident on the public’s health. The recently released documentary “Meltdown: Three Mile Island” features Middletown residents describing their experience during and following the event. Some suffered from diarrhea, lacerations, and other sicknesses. Some describe having a metal taste in their mouths.

However, no death has been attributed to the accident. Nevertheless, people diagnosed with an illness such as cancer are left wondering if the TMI incident is to blame. The incident caused significant distress to the town’s population and created distrust with authorities; as a result of the incompetence and deception.  

There is no shortage of studies conducted by the government and independent groups to investigate whether radiation contamination ever got to harmful levels in the area. All studies found that the radiation levels were low and fast decaying, causing no major dangers or illnesses.

When Did Three Mile Island Shut Down?

Following the incident, the TMI-2 reactor had to be permanently shut down in 1979 and was subjected to a clean-up process, which ended in 1993. The TMI-2 reactor’s cooling system was drained, its radioactive content evaporated and decontaminated, and the leftover radioactive waste was taken to a disposal area.

The TMI-1 reactor never suffered from any issues, though people in Middletown felt unsettled that this reactor kept running following TMI-2’s incident. This reactor was temporarily suspended but resumed operation in 1985. 

In late 2019, the TMI-1 reactor and the entire nuclear plant were shut down for good. The plant was subject to financial difficulties because of the rise of renewable energy and low-priced natural gas. If the NRC maintains its schedule, TMI will finish its decommissioning process by 2079. 

Who Was The Three Mile Island Accident Whistleblower?

The events at TMI almost took a turn for the worst in the weeks following the beginning of it all. One of the people hired for the clean-up process, Richard D. Parks, noticed that the Betchel Corp had initiated a clean-up process full of negligence.

Parks took evidence of the clean-up’s ignorance of public safety to the press, exposing the corporate corruption that was responsible for the incident in the first place. To this day, the whistleblower still talks about the incident and the lessons that should be learned from it.

Richard Parks was consequently fired for his actions against the company that hired him, but in his mind, this was a small price to pay, as things could have gone from bad to worst had he not exposed the truth.

Was Three Mile Island As Bad As Chernobyl?

The TMI nuclear incident was never as catastrophic as the events in Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. The events at TMI did not result in any deaths, whereas the events of Chernobyl resulted in thousands of casualties due to radiation poisoning. 

Nevertheless, in the manner that things unfolded at TMI, the situation came close to escalating to catastrophic levels comparable to Chernobyl. Had the reactor core exploded just like in Chernobyl, the resulting casualties count would have been worse than any other nuclear accident.

Though it avoided complete catastrophe, The TMI incident remains the worst civilian nuclear accident in the U.S. In the aftermath of events like TMI and Chernobyl, the nuclear industry has increased security measures. However, the element of human error is never guaranteed to be accounted for fully.