Catastrophic accidents at power plants have heightened fears about the safety of nuclear energy, but environmentalists and others are giving it renewed attention as a way to fight global warming.

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Nuclear Meltdowns Raised Fears, but Growing Energy Needs May Outweigh Them

Producer: Kit R. Roane
Update Producers: Sianne Garlick and Sandra McDaniel
Update Editor: Heru Muharrar

In March of 1979, the news of an accident at the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania sent reporters rushing to the scene, while some 140,000 residents eventually fled from surrounding towns in fear and confusion.

The worst-case scenario was already familiar to Americans, thanks to Hollywood. It had recently released “The China Syndrome," a thriller about an accident at a nuclear plant, and the film was playing in theaters across the country. Many viewers found it easy to conflate the disaster unfolding on the big screen with the real one taking place in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Fortunately, the thing most feared – a complete meltdown of the reactor core and a massive release of radiation – never happened in the movie or at Three Mile Island.

But there were consequences. The accident was the worst at a commercial nuclear plant in U.S. history. It showed how quickly America’s nuclear dream could turn into nightmare. That lesson stuck. Scores of reactors were cancelled, and the nuclear industry in America fell into something like cold storage.

The dream, however, never really died. You might be surprised who’s taken up that cause today. The question is whether America is ready to embrace a nuclear future?

Three Mile Island, and Nuclear Hopes and Fears by Clyde Haberman

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