Three Mile Island Citizen Radiation Monitoring Program
By Barbara Gray
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Three Mile Island Citizen Radiation Monitoring Program", Selection from: Barbara Gray, Collaborating: Finding Common Ground for Multiparty Problems, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1989), pp. 16-25.
In March 1979 there was an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor. The accident released a significant, but not serious, amount of radioactivity into the atmosphere. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that the released radiation did not pose a public health threat. However, neither the NRC nor Metropolitan Edison (which operated the reactor) was able to convey that conclusion in a credible and understandable manner. Public suspicion of the NRC and MetEd and fear of possible radiation exposure grew.
In order to assess the damage to the reactor, and begin cleanup, MetEd recommended the further release of low levels of radioactive gas. The NRC had determined that such further release did not pose a health hazard. However, public opposition to further release of radiation was intense. First, NRC information focused on rational, technical arguments which did not address the citizens' personal health concerns. Second, public officials tended to dismiss the citizen's emotional concerns which further reduced the citizen's trust in those officials. Third, citizen's unfamiliarity with radiation, and their distrust of the government's information, amplified their fears.
In order to provide the citizenry with accurate information on the radiation health risks, and to rebuild trust and credibility, the DOE initiated the Citizens' Radiation Monitoring Program. Under this program lay-citizens were chosen by their communities to monitor radiation levels in the community. Monitors were given intensive training in measuring and interpreting results. Communities chose their own monitoring schedules and locations. Citizens had more confidence in the data collected by fellow community members. Involving the citizenry directly increased public trust of the government agencies. In turn, this improved understanding of the situation and increased trust in the involved agencies resulted in more productive dialogues.