NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Three Mile Island Cancer Rates Not Higher Than Normal

November 5, 2002

Physicist Edward Teller remains the lone identified casualty of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident. The father of the H-Bomb had a heart attack (from which he recovered) following the March 1979 accident at the Pennsylvania power plant -- due to the stress of combating all the misinformation put out by nuclear power opponents and the news media.

Now a 20-year follow-up study of the "worse nuclear accident in American history" -- in which no one died and no one was injured -- finds that there has been no significant increase in deaths from cancer among residents near the site.

Researchers looked at causes of death from heart disease and cancers, including those known to be sensitive to radiation effects such as bronchial, breast, blood and central nervous system cancers.

  • The study of over 23,000 people living within a five-mile radius of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant found "no consistent evidence that radioactivity released during the nuclear accident has had a significant impact on the overall mortality of these residents."
  • Researchers believe that their 20-year study is important because cancers that take years to develop would have done so in this time.
  • Previous studies have suggested that even low-level doses of radiation have produced genetic damage in the children of exposed people exposed -- but scientists have calculated that people near Three Mile Island at the time were on average exposed to considerably less than the annual background radiation experienced by a U.S. resident.

In comparison, Teller says that the radiation released at the Soviet Chernobyl plant was "millions of times greater."

Source: Gaia Vince, "Three Mile Island Cancer Rates 'Normal,'" New Scientist News Services, November 1, 2002; Forthcoming, Environmental Health Perspectives, March 2003.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues