It was a typical Wednesday morning in south-central Pennsylvania. The largely working-class community of Middletown, PA was preparing for the day when the news broke at 9:00 am. One of the reactors at the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear power plant had malfunctioned.
The 1979 episode claimed no casualties – the reactor core’s partial meltdown was contained, with cleanup concluding in 1993 – but the effects of the nuclear crisis lasted far beyond that Wednesday morning. The event prompted extensive government action, and its imprint on the American culture in years following was felt acutely. For a disaster that proved physically harmless, the changes it wrought in the country were deeply felt. Read on for more about what happened, and how America responded.