Three mile Island: Searching for the Scientific Impact
Introduction and Analysis
The Three Mile Island Incident occurred March 28th, 1979 in the state of Pennsylvania and is considered to be the most serious nuclear power accident in the United States to this day (Office of Nuclear Energy, 2022). While it was shown by various studies that there would be no long term health affects to the people or environment of the surrounding area it is an event that is infamous in American history as the publics confidence in nuclear energy was greatly shaken (World Nuclear Association, 2020). In an attempt to visualize this shift, articles published in The States from the ten years before (1969-early1979) and ten years after (late 1979-1989) the event will be gathered and entered into the Voyant program.
This study has chosen to focus specifically on scientific articles published. The public shift in opinion on nuclear power has been well asserted in years since the Three Mile Incident but it was a question of if this opinion was heard and reflected by the scientific community in its research. The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) was used to collect metadata on each article, title, keywords and abstracts. Once put into Voyant a comparison visualization was created with Juxtapose for the years pre and post Three Mile Island:
Comparison between the top 55 used words in each corpus.
Note that the words Nuclear, Reactor(s), and Power were removed from both corpuses in order to highlight the differences and similarities more clearly. These were the top four words in both groups, used far more often than the fifth and below words, assumedly because these were the keywords used in the search for articles.
A straightforward analysis in the form of a word count list can also be used to compare the two time periods:
1969-79 Term Count
1979-89 Term Count
From these two versions of analysis some differences can be noted. Most obvious and applicable to this study is the term “safety” it is the 8th most common word found in studies pre-Three Mile Island, and jumps up to 4th in post. The word “accidents” also makes some progress in the list, going from 24th to 16th. It is interesting to see though that the term “radiation” is actually used less over time, 21st to 42nd. This could be in an attempt to stay away from what may have been considered a scary word to the general public.
There are similarities between these two lists that are notable as well. The fact that they have the same top 13 words (not in the exact same order) may indicate how little the focus and structure of the research and papers on nuclear energy has changed over the years. Both lists procure the word LMFBR, an acronym for Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor before any other shorthand reactor name like PWR or BWR. This is interesting because currently water-coolant based reactors are the ones mainly in use today and LMFBRs propose using liquid metal (usually sodium or lead) as a coolant instead. This coolant does not require the same high pressure design that water does and it is more efficient in its usage of the uranium fuel, using more of it and even being able to use recycled nuclear waste to produce more energy. Perhaps, this reactor is found so prominently in both time periods is because even today, the technology for it has not quite been figured out or put into practice, with only two LMFBRs existing today.
More in-depth information for each time period can be found at the posts below:
This study could be taken further in the future and applied in many new instances. The current focus was on a single incident and a single country and while this could be applied to other situations and locations it could also be taken to a global scale. One could analyze how the world’s perceptions and views on nuclear energy has changed over the years, pre and post certain disasters or just over time. Specifically, there could be a focus on our own country, Canada to see how the rhetoric surrounding nuclear energy has changed and note any correlations it might have to infamous nuclear accidents around the world. This approach could also be used to examine other manmade disasters and their impact on scientific study of the corresponding technology. If one wanted more of a public focus this examination could be used on newspaper articles, either to be analyzed on their own or in juxtaposition to scientific papers.
Office of Nuclear Energy. (2022, May 4). 5 Facts to Know About Three Mile Island. Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/5-facts-know-about-three-mile-island
World Nuclear Association. (2020, March). Three Mile Island | TMI 2 |Three Mile Island Accident. – World Nuclear Association. World-Nuclear.org. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/three-mile-island-accident.aspx