1 May 2013

Three Mile Island: The driver of US nuclear power’s decline?

Nathan Hultman

Nathan Hultman is an associate professor and director of the Environmental Policy program at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. He is also a nonresident fellow at...


Jonathan Koomey

Jonathan Koomey is a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University, and is the author of Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-Based...


It is tempting to attribute variations in support for nuclear power to prominent accidents such as Three Mile Island in the United States or Fukushima in Japan. To illuminate how such attribution can be problematic, the authors discuss the historical context of the Three Mile Island accident in the United States. They point out that the US nuclear industry faced major challenges even before the 1979 accident: Forty percent of all US reactor cancellations between 1960 and 2010, they write, occurred before the accident in Pennsylvania. While safety concerns were undoubtedly a driver of public aversion to new nuclear construction in the United States, the nuclear industry already faced substantial economic and competitiveness obstacles, much like the nuclear industry worldwide before Fukushima.