Rick Parks is the Three Mile Island whistleblower featured on the Netflix limited series, who talks about the narrowly avoided crisis near Middletown, Pennsylvania. Parks, whose full name is Richard D. Parks, is continuing to speak out today about the crisis.
The plant continued operating for decades before it was shut down just three years ago, in the fall of 2019, according to the Office of Nuclear Energy. The nuclear power plant was the site of the most serious nuclear accident on U.S. soil, the government office writes.
“A combination of equipment failure and operator error led to the partial meltdown of the power plant’s Unit 2 reactor that resulted in the release of a small amount of radioactive material,” the Office of Nuclear Energy wrote.
Here’s what you need to know:
Parks Survived Throat Cancer & Says Taking the Profit Motivation Out of Nuclear Energy Is Essential to Safety
Parks was a Missouri native who was hired as a cleanup supervisor by the Bechtel Corp and moved his family to Middletown, Pennsylvania for the job. The Bechtel Corp was hired to conduct the cleanup operation by Metropolitan Edison, which was supervised by the government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Parks was trained as a nuclear operator by the U.S. Navy, according to The Guardian.
“The cleanup was risky, arduous and behind schedule,” the Guardian reported. “Bechtel received funds upon completion of individual tasks, incentivizing the company and its hirer, General Public Utilities (GPU), to cut corners and ignore NRC regulations.”
Parks survived throat cancer, but he noted on the documentary that he was also a smoker. His stepdaughter, Nicole, was 6 at the time of the cleanup operation, and was also diagnosed with cancer. She, too, survived.
“Parks’s story has a relatively happy ending – the series delves into the personal and emotional costs of his disclosures, but the damaged crane was not used,” the Guardian reported.
Parks is continuing to advocate for safety in nuclear energy today. He said on the show that safety must take priority over profits to avoid a more catastrophic disaster in the future.
“We’ll never have a viable nuclear industry in this country until we take the profit motive out of it,” Parks said.
Exelon, Which Owned the Power Plant, Closed Operations Because the Plant Was Losing Money
Exelon, which operated the nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island, was counting on legislative action in the Pennsylvania House or Senate that would subsidize the plant, according to a statement from the company. When no action was taken on two bills before the state legislature, the company announced it would close.
“Today is a difficult day for our employees, who were hopeful that state policymakers would support valuing carbon-free nuclear energy the same way they value other forms of clean energy in time to save TMI from a premature closure,” said Bryan Hanson, Exelon senior vice president and chief nuclear officer. “I want to thank the hundreds of men and women who will continue to safely operate TMI through September. We will offer a position elsewhere in Exelon to every employee who wishes to stay with the company and is willing to relocate, and we will do all we can to support the community, the employees and their families during this difficult period.”
The company had campaigned to save its plant, saying that its carbon-free emissions were key in the climate change battle. NPR reported that other states took action in similar cases, including in Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. The news outlet reported that the situation was different in Pennsylvania, with a powerful natural gas industry that opposed the move and industrial users and consumer advocates described the subsidy request as a “bailout.”