The headline quoted above is exactly as it appeared last April 28 on the front page ofThe Patriot-News, a daily newspaper serving Pennsylvania’s capital of Harrisburg. I happened to be visiting the town that day, otherwise I probably would have missed the story, because the rest of the nation’s news media either ignored it or buried it somewhere in the vicinity of the horoscope column.

A few miles outside Harrisburg sits the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, the TMI of the headline. We all know what happened there in 1979. Or do we? The news media portrayed it as a catastrophe of biblical proportion. It seems sacrilegious to point out that nobody was killed or even seriously injured in the TMI accident, and that backup emergency systems finally did kick in to prevent a truly cataclysmic, Chernobyl-type event.

Nonetheless, a series of human and mechanical errors did lead to a partial melt of nuclear fuel inside one of the reactors, and a modest amount of radioactivity was vented to the atmosphere. As we have been reminded time and again during the last 21 years, it was America’s worst nuclear energy mishap, and it brought the curtain down on nuclear power in this country. No reactors have been ordered since, and the sharp blade of political correctness has severed the tongues of any who might blaspheme that nuclear energy may not be too dangerous to mess with.

Absent any TMI casualties to caterwaul over, the anti-nuke mob has spent the last couple of decades twittering with alarm over the potential long-term rise in nearby residents’ cancer rates from radioactive emissions during the accident. The Patriot-News reported that at least 16 studies have been done about the health effects of that accident, the most recent and comprehensive by the University of Pittsburgh, where, for a period of 13 years, researchers followed up on more than 32,000 people living within five miles of the plant. Results were published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The verdict—no significant increase in cancer deaths. I suspect the 15 other studies reached the same conclusion. How can I be so confident when I don’t have a clue what the 15 other studies were about?

Well, does anyone doubt that if any of those medical researchers had found even a wispy hint of increased cancer, it would have been all over the news faster than you can say, “Elian Gonzalez”?

Appeal to Reason

Their battle won, anti-nuclear zealots have moved on to trendier environmental causes. On the energy front, you can find them lobbying for legislation mandating electric cars that nobody wants to buy.

One would hope to find among those activists, at least here and there, a thinking person capable of putting two and two together. Such an individual might recognize that all objective data show nuclear energy to be the cleanest, safest, most practical large-scale alternative to fossil fuels. It has proven itself for almost half a century in hundreds of plants around the world to be virtually non-polluting and casualty-free—except for the genuinely disastrous Chernobyl experience, which was born of outdated technology and a totalitarian regime’s callous disregard for worker and public safety. But don’t hold your breath waiting for such voices of reason. Environmentalism is driven by ideological fervor, not logic.

Such is the tenor of our times that even the good news reported in The Patriot-News article was qualified mightily with reminders not to take those 16 studies as a definitive clean bill of health for the TMI incident. About half the article was devoted to skeptics casting doubt on the Pittsburgh study without even reading it. “I don’t have a scientific study, but all you have to do is look at the friends and neighbors around here dying of cancer,” said one layman quoted in the article. Come to think of it, I, too, have known of friends and neighbors afflicted with cancer, even though I live 800 miles from TMI. The fallout must be more potent than anyone thought. Never mind facts. All we need to know is that the bogeyman hides in every bedroom closet.

Cognitive Dissonance

Don’t read this commentary as a call to action for nuclear power. Actually, I’m trying to draw attention to an even more important issue.