The image featured with this review is the poster for Containment: Life After Three Mile Island. However, the photo could have easily been taken by yours truly. Throughout my life, I have always lived within fifteen miles of Three Mile Island (TMI).
Today, even as I drive down Pennsylvania Route 441 or across the South Bridge on Interstate 83, I can’t help but notice those four ominous cooling towers — two of which are bellowing steam and two of which are silenced and out of commission. Even when the stacks aren’t visible, you can hear the 96 sirens wail occasionally — either in honor of the accident or during a “test” to ensure audibility in the case of an emergency.
Years after the incident, I remember receiving pills in the mail with instructions to ingest if history repeated itself or worse. I don’t know if these pills would’ve helped stymie radiation or if they were even FDA approved, but I suppose they provided comfort. My point is this: whether you live in or travel through the Central Pennsylvania area, TMI is hard to miss and its effects are difficult to forget.
On March 28, 1979, the TMI-2 reactor (a.k.a. “Unit 2”) suffered a partial meltdown. The accident began when the secondary non-nuclear cooling system’s main feedwater pumps failed at precisely 4:00 a.m. EST. This caused the pilot-operated pressurizer relief valve to open automatically — resulting in the overheating of the reactor core and thereby a near-repeat of Chernobyl. In the end, half of the reactor core had melted, and the power plant was only 30 minutes away from a total meltdown
The accident made national headlines, served as a magnet for reporters, inspired musicians, raised awareness, and resulted in the cancellations of 51 new American nuclear reactors between 1980 and 1984. Yet, while the TMI nuclear mishap shocked the world, it exacted its hardest toll on the local community. More than 200,000 people were exiled from their homes, anti-nuclear activism rose, property values plummeted, and long-term health effects remained in question.
Containment is a run of the mill documentary on TMI and the nearby community of Middletown. The documentary is divided into four distinct sections: “THE ACCIDENT,” “THE AFTERMATH,” “THE RESTART,” and “THE LEGACY.” Each section includes commentary from the town’s residents (including two memorable old ladies, an overboard anti-nuclear supporter named Gene, and Jim “Slim Jim” Buchanan [then a DJ, now a local meteorologist]).