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Nuclear Meltdown II

Nuclear Meltdown II

Three Mile Island

Chapter:
(p.138) Nine Nuclear Meltdown II
Source:
Seeing Green
Author(s):
Finis Dunaway
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226169934.003.0009

This chapter considers media coverage of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. Television reports imparted a sense of urgency that emphasized the potential explosiveness of the situation. News broadcasts made spectators feel like witnesses to a crisis that could, at any moment, turn into a deadly catastrophe. After the crisis ended, photographs of Three Mile Island’s cooling towers became icons of the accident, visual reminders of the tense moments that gripped the nation. Popular imagery mobilized public fear and helped validate the emotional politics of the antireactor movement. Yet these images also detached the accident from broader manifestations of energy crisis and focused public attention on the nuclear power plant as the sole locus of environmental danger. This chapter contrasts the extensive coverage of Three Mile Island with the media’s neglect of the massive radioactive spill in the Rio Puerco, on lands held by the Navajo Nation. The short-term, immediate danger of the China syndrome and Three Mile Island became increasingly visible in American public culture, but the more extensive timeframes of risk remained marginal to spectacle-driven framings of environmental crises.

Keywords:   Three Mile Island, nuclear accident, cooling towers, emotional politics, Rio Puerco, antinuclear movement

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