Publication Laka-library:
Understanding the Three Mile Island accident

AuthorRosalie Bertell
DateNovember 1980*

From the publication:

Barriers to be overcome:

First, scientific information and public relations material must be
converted into easily understood facts. A well-known example is: "An incident
in which 100% of subject biota exhibited mortality response", means: "A nuclear
accident in which all the fish died" (New York Times report of a U.S. Atomic
Energy Commission Report, November 1974).

Second, the reports released to the public are designed to define the
limits of insurance liability, protect property values, keep the public from
losing faith in the nuclear industry, and reduce if possible the cost of clean
up (by reducing fear and expectations). Officials attempt to ascertain the
most serious affects directly attributable to the accident, and doing this
involves numerous hidden assumptions and value judgements on the part of
decision makers. These judgements are primarily economic and political.

Third, the numerous government regulations, some for normal operation,
some for accident situations and some for accidents when the most vulnerable
persons are removed (evacuations of pregnant women and children), makes it
difficult to understand statements such as: "within government regulations".

Fourth, the burden of proof is on the victim, i.e. by custom no health
effect is attributed to radiation unless all other causes can be ruled out and
the number of victims is clearly beyond a normal range (average plus three
standard deviations; 0.2% confidence interval).

Fifth, what is not being said is often more important that what is being
said. For example, "there will be very few excess cancer fatalities," leaves
unanswered questions about non-fatal cancers, cancers which were accelerated
by exposure (these are not "excess"), benign tumors, and may other health

*) Estimated date