Video: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island revisited
Transcript of: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island revisited
MATT LAUER, co-host: But we want to begin this half-hour with very serious news, and we're talking about the nuclear crisis in Japan . People living within 12 miles of the Fukushima plant have been evacuated. Officials warned anyone within 19 miles to simply stay indoors. As Savannah mentioned earlier, there are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States , some very close to major population
centers: the Indian Point plant, about 35 miles north of New York City , home to more than eight million people; approximately 35 miles outside of Philadelphia , Pennsylvania , with a population of a million and a half sits the Limerick Generating Station ; and the Waterford Steam Electric Station is just 30 miles outside of New Orleans , which as we know is an area vulnerable to hurricanes. So how does a nuclear disaster impact the people and environment surrounding a plant? This morning we're live at the sites of both Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl , beginning with NBC 's Jeff Rossen at Three Mile Island . Jeff , good morning to you.
JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Hey, Matt , good morning to you. This plant is still very much active. You can see one of the reactors still going this morning with two of the cooling stacks sending steam into the air. We just talked to one of the officials from here. They supply power here at Three Mile Island to 800,000 homes here in the Northeast , most of them in Pennsylvania . You know, back in 1979 when the partial core meltdown happened here at Three Mile Island , they were ill-prepared. They're the first admit that. No real evacuation plan, a shoddy emergency plan . But this morning everything has changed inside while things out here are basically the same.
Ms. JOAN ESPENSHADE (Lives Behind Three Mile Island): We didn't know. It was scary...
Mr. KENNETH ESPENSHADE: Yeah.
Ms. ESPENSHADE: ...and we knew the sirens had gone off, and somebody said something happened at the nuclear power plant . And...
Ms. ESPENSHADE: Chaos.
ROSSEN: It was March 1979 , a partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island that shut the plant down and sent radioactive gas into the air; all of it just a stone's throw from Joan and Kenneth 's house.
Ms. ESPENSHADE: We had a five-year-old son we had to worry about. We had to worry about his safety. And yeah, our concern was to get him out of the area.
Unidentified Reporter: Good morning, everyone. Some radioactive steam still leaking this morning from a damaged nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania .
ROSSEN: It was a combination of mechanical failure and human error, to this day the most serious nuclear power accident in American history .
Offscreen Voice: You're not finding anything, are you, Brian ?
BRIAN: Not a damn thing.
ROSSEN: Believe it or not , no one died, and studies show there have been no long-term health issues. But there was fallout. Americans were scared, and for the nuclear power industry the timing couldn't have been worse.
ROSSEN: The movie " The China Syndrome " was released just days before the accident, showing a Hollywood version of a nuclear meltdown , and set the tone for the real-world emergency playing out in Pennsylvania .
Ms. ESPENSHADE: The biggest concern was, can I get back?
ROSSEN: A presidential commission ordered sweeping changes at Three Mile Island and the government agency that oversees it. Today, 32 years later, officials here say it's safe.
Mr. RALPH DESANTIS (Three Mile Island Spokesman): We want people to know that we have redundant and numerous safety systems at Three Mile Island .
ROSSEN: We're in your backyard right now.
Ms. ESPENSHADE: Right.
ROSSEN: And you are literally in the shadow of this nuclear power plant .
Ms. ESPENSHADE: Correct.
ROSSEN: Make you nervous?
Ms. ESPENSHADE: No, no. I can't say that it does. I mean, we had -- we have families and friends that all worked on the island and, you know, it was part of our lives.
ROSSEN: In fact, at the local cafe we found many of the same people who experienced the accident as kids still live here as adults.
Unidentified Woman #1: We don't think about it day to day . But now that this is in the news, it makes you wonder what really did happen then and what could happen in the future.
ROSSEN: You think about this.
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah. We have iodine pills in our home in case something happens.
Mr. ESPENSHADE: This is probably the safest nuclear plant in the country because of the focus that was on it before.
Ms. ESPENSHADE: That's right .
Mr. ESPENSHADE: If I have to live around one, this is the one I'll live around.
ROSSEN: Just to give you an idea what they're in for now in Japan , here at Three Mile Island it took them 12 years and $1 billion nearly to clean up the mess here. And of course, that was without all the damage and the death and the carnage from a quake and a tsunami, Savannah .
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, co-host: Jeff Rossen , experts already saying what we're seeing in Japan is worse than Three Mile Island .
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, co-host: Well, next month marks the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl , the world's worst nuclear accident . NBC 's Michelle Kosinski is there. Michelle , good morning.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Hi , Savannah . Chernobyl was the worst nuclear accident in history 25 years ago next month. And to this day there is this 20-mile radius exclusion zone around it. You need special clearance to get back there, which they haven't granted us yet this time around. And there's still a higher level of radiation in places here than is normal, but it's diminished enough that Ukraine is now ready to offer Chernobyl as an extreme tourism destination. Overgrown, eerie, much of it touched only by time since then. April 1986 , Russia was slow to admit that during safety tests one of the Chernobyl nuclear reactors overloaded, exploded and melted down. The enormous burst of radiation killed dozens of emergency workers , spread across Europe , and scientists say in the years that followed spiked the number of thyroid cancer cases in the region.
Mr. ROBERT ALVAREZ (Institute for Policy Studies): Currently an area about half the size of New Jersey is uninhabitable and may be that way for hundreds of years.
KOSINSKI: It remains a silent specter: the empty schools; hulking, abandoned Soviet buildings; the amusement park that never amused anyone, set to open days after the disaster; and the aging sarcophagus, the structure built over the corpse of the nuclear reactor to contain the radioactivity still inside. Yet birds nest around it, flowers bloom.
Unidentified Woman: Right now the radiation levels are -- they're on the high side.
KOSINSKI: Not silent here are the dosimeters that identify radioactive hot spots. All of this video was captured by our NBC cameras six years ago.
Unidentified Man: Looks like you could still get in and go for a ride.
KOSINSKI: Even then a few tourists ventured in, and some hardy residents moved back to farm. But officials here have determined that today the radiation level is low enough to bring people through on tours to show them the sort of nuclear nowhere that Japan is desperate to prevent. At least there, unlike Chernobyl , huge protective barriers surround the reactors.
Mr. ALVAREZ: We are all keeping our fingers crossed and hoping and praying that if things take an even greater turn to the worst that these barriers will serve to prevent large releases from occurring.
KOSINSKI: Here, what was a paragon of what humans can do, split the atom to cleanly power our inventions, has returned to absolute basics. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says in this region now there is no overall increase in cancer or disease that can be attributed to Chernobyl , although there could still be some 4,000 radiation-related deaths in the future among the hundreds of thousands of people exposed back then. Here lies the lonely evidence, poisoned by people, reclaimed by the earth. And in addition to the increased tourism now here -- we saw tourists going in today -- Ukraine also wants to build an even bigger containment dome over that old reactor. It'll take years to build and will cost around a billion
dollars. Savannah: All right, Michelle Kosinski in Chernobyl this morning, thank you.
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