The Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI-2) reactor, near Middletown, Pa., on the Susquehanna River, partially melted down on March 28, 1979. The accident showed that there were enormous risks from nuclear power plants. It enhanced safety concerns among activists and the general public, resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry, and contributed to the decline of reactor construction programs in the US and in some other countries. It gave a great impulse to the anti-nuclear movement, and discredited previous risk assessments such as the notorious 1975 Rasmussen Report sponsored by the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission statistically estimating extremely low risks from potential accidents in commercial nuclear power plants. It was carried out under the direction of Norman C. Rasmussen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The risks had to be estimated, rather than measured, because although there were about 50 such plants operating, there had not been grave nuclear accidents in commercial reactors in the U.S. before the Three Mile Island meltdown. On March 30, 1979, Gov. Richard Thornburgh recommended an evacuation for preschool children and pregnant women living within five miles of Three Mile Island. According to some research, data collected since the meltdown demonstrate a significant nexus between radiation exposure and adverse health impacts to women and children. The US – until the accident - was expecting to derive about 14 percent of its generating capacity from nuclear power stations. The US industry had begun confidently taking new orders totaling 8,000 MW that year – more than any year since 1974. Instead, after Three Mile Island, president Carter ordered an inquiry into the accident and said he would expedite efforts to expand the number of nuclear inspectors. But mid-April he added that “there is no way for us to abandon nuclear power in the foreseeable future,”
reiterating his administration’s intention to introduce fresh legislation to accelerate the licensing of new nuclear plants.
Intentions that were embedded in forecasts to build between 200 and 500 more nuclear power stations by the year 2000. The only thing on which Carter had been sure was to quit the fast breeder project, at Clinch River in Tennessee. Instead of investing public resources in the breeder demonstration project, he urged attention to improving the safety of existing nuclear technology. Despite the rhetoric, and despite the fact that at the time of the TMI-accident, 17 utilities had applied to build 30 new nuclear plants in the United States, no nuclear power plant started construction in the US in the 30 years after the accident at Three Mile Island.