Many of Us Remember the Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 28th, 1979 a Pennslyvania nuclear reactor partially melted down along the banks of the Susquehanna River. The event is infamously known as the Three Mile Island Accident.

Schools were closed. Area residents were told to stay indoors. Farmers had to keep their animals under cover and only feed their livestock with feed not exposed to the elements. The 20-mile evacuation zone included 663,500 residents. Almost half of the population left the area - with most everyone returning to their homes within 3 weeks. 

How Much Radiation Was Released During the Three Mile Island Accident?

Government officials admit that 15 curies of radiation were released. 

How much radiation was Purposely Released at Hanford in 1949?

8,000 curies. Over 533 times the amount of radiation from the Three Mile Island Meltdown. No one in the Hanford/Tri-Cities metro area was evacuated.

Why Was That Much Radiation Released to the Public?

It all boiled down to Cold War Fears. 

In August 1949 - the Soviets made their first successful atomic bomb test. The US had a deep fear that the Russians would begin building a stockpile of nuclear weapons. 

Engineers created instruments, to be flown aboard US military planes - to detect normal radioactivity from the Hanford Nuclear site.

The initial experiment failed. So, the decision for a much higher amount of radiation was agreed upon. 

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The Green Run

On December 2nd, 1949, the Federal Government decided to conduct an experiment called “The Green Run” 

'It was the largest single release of radioactive iodine-131 in Hanford’s history, covering vegetation as far north as Kettle Falls, WA, and as far south as Klamath Falls, OR.' -NPS.gov

A large amount of iodine-131 and other radioactive gas was released from Hanford’s T-Plant.

The spread of the dangerous particles was concentrated around the immediate Hanford area - including Moses Lake, Ritzville, the Tri-Cities, Walla Walla, and the Oregon towns of Pendleton and The Dalles.

The effects of the Green Run on
Where radioactive iodine-131 was found on vegetation following the Green Run. CREDIT: Technical Steering Panel of the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction Project, (1992)
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The Aftermath

For nearly three decades, an astounding amount of radioactive gases were released to the public. 

How much? 

'739,000 curies of iodine-131, released at Hanford over the period 1944-1972. The people affected by the Green Run and other radiation releases due to accidents or negligence are known as the Downwinders.' -NPS.Gov

Increased amounts of cancer rates in the areas affected were noted. A recent Washington state survey released a new cancer rate study that breaks down cancer cases by county.

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