Three Mile Island

June 1, 2007 — Three...Mile...Island.  In the middle of Po...Dunk...PA.  I just didn’t know it.  Sure, I’m a general imbecile when it comes to geography.  More relevantly, though, the incident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station is forever thematically tied to the Chernobyl disaster in the old Soviet Union, so I thought Three Mile Island was in some similarly far off and unreachable place.  Nope.  Southeastern Pennsylvania, not too much west of Philadelphia, on a tiny island a mere stone’s throw (by an armless man, no less) from the east bank of the Susquehanna river.

As soon as I found that out, I tricked my girlfriend into thinking we were headed for a luxuriant bed and breakfast in idyllic Lancaster for a romantic weekend getaway, and then took her an hour past that while she was napping in the passenger seat to this nuclear reactor that made international news before she was born.

For five days in the spring of 1979, the entire world’s attention was focused on a three-mile stretch of fake land like a giant magnifying glass on a highly radioactive ant (all the makings of a Them! reference, but I somehow just couldn’t pull it off).  Annoying firefly swarms of camera-flashing pressmen, sweaty globs of pacing facility managers, harried scientists nervously brainstorming hair-brained ideas in secret rooms, semi-informed residents screaming and coughing, third-wheel politicians yelling over everyone’s shoulders, the imminent threat of mass mutilation and death, the destruction of a major swathe of the East Coast, the embarrassment in front of the international community, Philadelphia becoming an even worse city to live in.  We’re talking enough pumped-up drama to fill a major television miniseries.  A nuclear power generator was about to blow.  I’m still not quite sure why.  Something about bubbles and the inability of engineers to read gauges.

You have to realize, what makes this place so special of all the 60-odd nuclear power plants in the U.S. was that this was the worst nuclear accident in American history.  I mean, people were almost evacuated on a mass scale.  People were almost irradiated in horribly scarring and cancer-causing ways.  People almost died horrible deaths.  Yup, you heard that right…the worst nuclear accident in American history and zero...people...died.  And nobody mutated. Three Mile Island was one of the biggest anti-climaxes in the history of America.  And that’s why I wanted to go there.  I love anti-climax.  This article is no exception.

Three Mile’s obscenely easy to get to, for those of you so inclined.  You can Google Map it using just the phrase “Three Mile Island.”  As soon as you get to Middletown, on whose outskirts Three-Mile looms like a...well, what it is, a nuclear freaking reactor, you can see the towers in the distanc, belching huge cumulonimbi of thick white steam.  Then you’ll hit River Road, which closely parallels the Susquehanna at the relevant parts. We parked in a neighborhood just down the street, made a joke about the children’s swing set that faced the plant, stepped over three road kills, and snapped the shots below a rise upon which was situated a house that has a great view of the facility.  I had to travel three hours to see it.  They just have to look out their kitchen window.

From my picture here you can only see two of the four towers that make up the facility. There were much clearer shots, but I thought this was just the more dramatic angle, I think.  For future reference, don't come to O.T.I.S. expecting photography worth a thousand words. Just me standing in front of stuff.

I read rumors of a visitors center with very limited hours, but I didn’t see it.  Amergen is the company that runs Three Mile these days, and a couple of Amergen buildings are located across the street from Three Mile, but nothing promoting obviously and friendly-like that there’s a visitor center.  And “obviously and friendly-like” is pretty much what I need to enter strange buildings for no good reason at all.  The bridge entrance to Three Mile does have a few-spaced parking area marked “visitor parking,” but you have to drive past the “No Trespassing” and “Subject to Search and Photograph” signs.  More mixed messages than a drunken asphasiac, I know.

We traveled east a bit further down River Road just past the island and saw a dilapidated and probably long-shut-down establishment with a placard bearing the name Radioactive Bar & Grill.  I really have no comment on that place other than to mention it. Sorry I didn't get a pic.

But there you go.  Three Mile Island.  Human-error-caused nuclear accident.  And not a single Homer Simpson joke.  Because I’ve got comedic self-control.


  1. Are you going to do an article on the Flatwoods Monster in Braxton County, WV?

  2. I remember living not far from TMI and taking the tour of the museum they have. The creepy part was standing out on the front lawn of the place where they have the radiation detectors running and you could see that radiation was still present. Such a eerie feeling. Middletown was also a creepy place to drive through, knowing what we know of what happened at the time.

  3. Enjoyed this.

    Nobody died, and there were a lot of almosts, but the incident did change the course of history of nuclear power in the US, for better AND for worse.

    Apparently there's some evidence that Flight 93 was headed for TMI on 9/11/01.

  4. I live about 3 mile from where you took your pics. I use to go to the Radio Active for a beer or two or three...ahhhh hell who am I kidding, more like 12 on Saturday nights. They closed their doors about 2 years ago. Do you want to know what it is now? I bet you will never guess. It is now a church of all thing.

  5. TMI is also not far from the Harrisburg Airport... Before 9/11 I used to travel here to visit Tyco Electronics (a major employer in the area), and flying in, one of the approaches had the planes bank directly over TMI - yes - turning in the plane, looking out the window, you got to see directly down the throat of the reactors (not much to see though - pretty dark inside), but creepy nonetheless. Even now you fly awfully darned close (within a mile or half-mile) of the stacks. Seems odd that they would allow planes even that close in this day and age...

  6. A little late but those aren't actually reactors you were looking ar. The reactors themselves are housed deep within a fortified containment building that probably looks like a big concrete building... maybe a dome. What you were looking into would be the cooling towers, which cool the hot water coming out of the steam turbines so it can be used again. The water enters the towers and falls down through the cool air inside which cools the water. There really isn't much inside them, besides hot water, and not the radioactive kind either.

  7. Recent reliable studies have indicated that the numbers of deaths among infants, children and the elderly did spike much higher than normal during the two years immediately following the accident. Also, the mechanical/engineering reasons for the partial meltdown are readily available and easily understood at even a child's level.