Although the docu-series starts on a dragging note, it gains momentum by its second half, painting a disturbing picture of negligence and greed that caused the lapses which led to the accident.
Last Updated: 06.49 AM, May 06, 2022
On March 28, 1979, the United States witnessed the worst commercial nuclear accident in its history when a nuclear reactor in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, had a meltdown, causing a significant amount of nuclear reactor coolant to escape outside the plant. Meltdown: Three Mile Island takes a deep dive into the incident, answering questions about what caused it and the aftermath of the incident that Pennsylvania residents had to deal with. It also focuses on the actions taken by the people in power at the time, which eventually culminated in the disaster.
Meltdown: Three Mile Island explores a dark chapter in America’s nuclear history, one that had a significant impact on the state of nuclear power regulations in the country. The docu series, helmed by the Academy Award nominated Kief Davidson, certainly does a good job at giving viewers a thorough and elaborate glimpse into the chilling event.
The four part series takes viewers through the things that set in motion the accident, starting right on the fateful night that the meltdown occurred. The show’s pace during the initial episodes are painfully slow, and its attempts to give as thorough a picture of the situation as possible ends up being incredibly monotonous at times. To its credit, it does try to simplify the technical aspects that led to the event as best it could, but even those tend to be drawn out in a way that can only keep the attention of a niche audience. Owing to a lack of real footage, the director goes in for a dramatic recreation of the events of the first night, and that is another aspect that misses the mark, a shortfall that is common in most documentaries. But once the show gets past its slow moving and unnecessarily drawn out initial part, it starts to take on a more interesting route.
Not to make the narrative one sided, several experts and parties who played an important role in the event have been given chances to tell their side of the story, including employees of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC), the workers at the plant who were present during the incident, the residents of the island and more. As the series progresses, the narratives from the different sets of stakeholders give off a clear picture of the hullabaloo that was caused on the small island, the panic that struck the population and how the authorities scrambles to contain the situation as best they could. It also leads to the shocking revelation that the accident was entirely avoidable.
One of the most compelling aspects of the documentary, where it really takes on the hues of true crime, come when the series explores the story of Richard Parks,an engineer at the plant who eventually turned whistleblower when he realised that, even after the accident, the management of the plant blatantly violated safety norms. His going public with the inside information at his disposal revealed how the accident was a long time coming, and how the management’s negligence and greed eventually culminated in the disaster. The show also explores the kind of pushback and consequences Parks' revelation got him, and the reckless endangerment the management caused due to their profit oriented approach.
Although the documentary series does a good job at giving viewers a very comprehensive picture of the Three Mile Island incident, there are several areas where it seemed to fall short. In addition to the slow beginning, the show seems to have dropped the ball when it comes to focussing. Spending an excess amount of time in the things that preceded the accident and the damage control measures after, it fails to give due focus on a very important aspect- the long term effects the radiation from the plant had on the residents. Although the management had emphasised that the radiation leak was not significant enough to cause long term biological effects, the documentary reveals how several residents who lived in the plant’s vicinity found themselves afflicted with several forms of cancer. This particular aspect should have been given much more gravity than it was given, with only part of a single episode dedicated to it.
Meltdown: Three Mile Island has its faults, but the docu series does a fairly good job at fulfilling what it sets out to do- give a comprehensive account of the worst nuclear accident on American soil. Director Davidson’s meticulous efforts paint a jarring picture of negligence and corporate greed that led to a dangerous situation. The series also throws light on some new revelations about the event that may not have been in the public eye.