Essay: Memories of a nuclear disaster
March 30, 1999
Web posted at: 2:48 p.m. EST (1948 GMT)
By Correspondent Natalie Pawelski
EDITOR'S NOTE:Twenty years ago, Three Mile Island was in the middle of the worst accident in the history of American nuclear power. CNN's Natalie Pawelski was a ninth-grader living about 12 miles away. Today, she covers environmental issues for CNN, and the experiences of 20 years ago still resonate.
HAMPDEN TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- In the wake of floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes, we've gotten used to stories about how natural disasters draw communities together.
Unnatural disasters -- like Bhopal, Love Canal, or the Exxon Valdez -- are different. They seem to drive people apart.
And Three Mile Island helped set the pattern. On one side, you had people counting the sick and collecting deformed plants, and blaming it all on the nuclear plant.
On the other side, you had people saying nothing happened: Nothing to see here, move along, there is no emergency.
At the time of the accident, I was a school kid living about 12 miles away, as the radiation flies. We were left trying to figure out what was fact and what was fear ... left trying to figure out where the middle ground is, when that's where your home is built, when that's where you've got to live.
Hollywood made it harder.
"The China Syndrome" -- with its nuclear meltdown scenario -- was playing in area theaters. And the parallels to what was happening in our real world were too close for comfort.
And as for the news media, a lot of us blamed the networks for scaring us instead of informing us.
Now that I'm a card-carrying member of the media myself, I like to think living through Three Mile Island has made me a more sympathetic reporter.
But it has also made me skeptical -- both of those who say the sky is falling and those who say there's nothing to worry about.
Most of all, it taught me how hard it is to tell the story
-- when even the experts can't agree on what that story is.
Protesters mark Three Mile Island 20th anniversary
March 29, 1999
Three Mile Island, 20 years later
March 28, 1999
The American Experience | Meltdown at Three Mile Island
Inside Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island
The Three Mile Island 2 (TMI-2) Recovery and Decontamination Collection
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.