Former GE VP: Japan Comparable to Three Mile Island

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As the world follows the threat of a nuclear meltdown in Japan, Margaret Harding, a nuclear safety consultant and former Vice President of Engineering Quality at GE Nuclear Energy, discussed nuclear reactor safety today on the Brian Lehrer show.

"I have a standing policy that do not spread fear, uncertainty and doubt," Harding said.

Harding likened the radioactive releases in Japan to the scale of what happened in the partial core meltdown on Three Mile Island, an incident that looms darkly in the memories of many on the East Coast.

We're talking of numbers on the order of what you would receive getting a cat scan or getting other diagnostic x-rays done over the course of your lifetime, so you have those done without fear, I believe that there's no fear in an increase of radiation here.

Harding discussed the destruction and illness that resulted from the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine, considered one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. The World Health Organization says as many as 4,000 people developed Thyroid cancer in the area after Chernobyl.

Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable cancers on the planet, very few people die from it. So yes, may have happened, one of the real problems with that area of Ukraine is we don't have much data from before, so we don't know what the delta is. But let's not argue about Chernobyl. We know that was a terrible event, I am not going to argue that Chernobyl wasn't horrendously and horrifically a bad thing to happen.

Harding said that compared to the rest of the energy industry, the nuclear industry's record is at least as good, and perhaps better, even if it has at times painted dramatic images in the public imagination.

I look at the gas explosions that have occurred at operating gas plants that have killed dozens of people, I look at the effects of the coal industry and the people who die from the pollution of coal, and I look at the over all safety of the nuclear industry, even including Chernobyl, on a world-wide basis is still far safer than any other power source than we have.

Harding pleaded the case to keep the nuclear industry up and running, giving the analogy, "planes crash and we don't shut down the airline industry."

As for the nuclear plants on the east coast, she said it was "kind of silly" to worry about a disastrous earthquake affecting a plant in Georgia, because it doesn't lie on a major fault line.

General Electric declined to comment about Harding's remarks.