This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
March 28 is the 87th day of the year (88th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 278 days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1979, the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island overheats causing a partial meltdown. At 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979, the worst accident in the history of the U.S. nuclear power industry begins when a pressure valve in the Unit-2 reactor at Three Mile Island fails to close. Cooling water, contaminated with radiation, drained from the open valve into adjoining buildings, and the core began to dangerously overheat.
The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was built in 1974 on a sandbar on Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, just 10 miles downstream from the state capitol in Harrisburg. In 1978, a second state-of-the-art reactor began operating on Three Mile Island, which was lauded for generating affordable and reliable energy in a time of energy crises.
The power plant was owned and operated by General Public Utilities and Metropolitan Edison (Met Ed). It was the most significant accident in the history of the USA commercial nuclear power generating industry, resulting in the release of up to 481 PBq (13 million curies) of radioactive gases, and less than 740 GBq (20 curies) of the particularly dangerous iodine-131.
The accident began at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve (PORV) in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant to escape. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface. In particular, a hidden indicator light led to an operator manually overriding the automatic emergency cooling system of the reactor because the operator mistakenly believed that there was too much coolant water present in the reactor and causing the steam pressure release. The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of five days, as employees of Met Ed, Pennsylvania state officials, and members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decide whether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis. The NRC’s authorization of the release of 40,000 gallons of radioactive waste water directly in the Susquehanna River led to a loss of credibility with the press and community.
In the end, the reactor was brought under control, although full details of the accident were not discovered until much later, following extensive investigations by both a presidential commission and the NRC. The Kemeny Commission Report concluded that “there will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects”. Several epidemiological studies in the years since the accident have supported the conclusion that radiation releases from the accident had no perceptible effect on cancer incidence in residents near the plant, though these findings are contested by one team of researchers.
Public reaction to the event was probably influenced by The China Syndrome, a movie which had recently been released and which depicts an accident at a nuclear reactor. Communications from officials during the initial phases of the accident were felt to be confusing. The accident crystallized anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists and the general public, resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry, and has been cited as a contributor to the decline of new reactor construction that was already underway in the 1970s.
The incident was rated a five on the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale: Accident With Wider Consequences.
37 – Roman Emperor Caligula accepts the titles of the Principate, entitled to him by the Senate.
193 – Roman Emperor Pertinax is assassinated by Praetorian Guards, who then sell the throne in an auction to Didius Julianus.
364 – Roman Emperor Valentinian I appoints his brother Flavius Valens co-emperor.
845 – Paris is sacked by Viking raiders, probably under Ragnar Lodbrok, who collects a huge ransom in exchange for leaving.
1776 – Juan Bautista de Anza finds the site for the Presidio of San Francisco.
1794 – Allies under the prince of Coburg defeat French forces at Le Cateau.
1795 – Partitions of Poland: The Duchy of Courland, a northern fief of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, ceases to exist and becomes part of Imperial Russia.
1802 – Heinrich Wilhelm Matthaus Olbers discovers 2 Pallas, the second asteroid known to man.
1809 – Peninsular War: France defeats Spain in the Battle of Medelin.
1854 – Crimean War: France and Britain declare war on Russia.
1860 – First Taranaki War: The Battle of Waireka begins.
1862 – American Civil War: Battle of Glorieta Pass – in New Mexico, Union forces stop the Confederate invasion of New Mexico territory. The battle began on March 26.
1871 – The Paris Commune is formally established in Paris.
1910 – Henri Fabre becomes the first person to fly a seaplane, the Fabre Hydravion, after taking off from a water runway near Martigues, France.
1913 – Guatemala becomes a signatory to the Buenos Aires copyright treaty.
1920 – Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1920 affects the Great Lakes region and Deep South states.
1930 – Constantinople and Angora change their names to Istanbul and Ankara.
1939 – Spanish Civil War: Generalissimo Francisco Franco conquers Madrid.
1941 – World War II: Battle of Cape Matapan – in the Mediterranean Sea, British Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham leads the Royal Navy in the destruction of three major Italian heavy cruisers and two destroyers.
1942 – World War II: In occupied France, British naval forces successfully raid the German-occupied port of St. Nazaire.
1946 – Cold War: The United States State Department releases the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, outlining a plan for the international control of nuclear power.
1959 – The State Council of the People’s Republic of China dissolves the Government of Tibet.
1968 – Brazilian high school student Edson Luís de Lima Souto is shot by the police in a protest for cheaper meals at a restaurant for low-income students. The aftermath of his death is one of the first major events against the military dictatorship.
1969 – Greek poet and Nobel Prize laureate Giorgos Seferis makes a famous statement on the BBC World Service opposing the junta in Greece.
1969 – The McGill français movement protest occurs, the second largest protest in Montreal’s history with 10,000 trade unionists, leftist activists, CEGEP students, and even some McGill students at McGill’s Roddick Gates. This led to the majority of the protesters getting arrested.
1978 – The US Supreme Court hands down 5-3 decision in Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, a controversial case involving involuntary sterilization and judicial immunity.
1979 – Operators of Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 nuclear reactor outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania fail to recognize that a relief valve in the primary coolant system has stuck open following an unexpected shutdown. As a result, enough coolant drains out of the system to allow the core to overheat and partially melt down.
1979 – The British House of Commons passes a vote of no confidence against James Callaghan’s government, precipitating a general election.
1990 – President George H. W. Bush posthumously awards Jesse Owens the Congressional Gold Medal.
1994 – In South Africa, Zulus and African National Congress supporters battle in central Johannesburg, resulting in 18 deaths.
1999 – Kosovo War: Serb paramilitary and military forces kill 146 Kosovo Albanians in the Izbica massacre.
2000 – A Murray County, Georgia, school bus is hit by a CSX freight train (3 children die in this accident).
2003 – In a “friendly fire” incident, two A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft from the United States Idaho Air National Guard’s 190th Fighter Squadron attack British tanks participating in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, killing British soldier Matty Hull.
2005 – The 2005 Sumatran earthquake rocks Indonesia, and at magnitude 8.7 is the fourth strongest earthquake since 1965.
2006 – At least 1 million union members, students, and unemployed take to the streets in France in protest at the government’s proposed First Employment Contract law.
* Christian Feast Day:
* Commemoration of Sen no Rikyu (Schools of Japanese tea ceremony)
* Serfs Emancipation Day (Tibet)
* Teachers’ Day (Czech Republic and Slovakia)