Residents living within a few miles of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979 experienced firsthand one of the worst nuclear accidents in American history. Yet, for decades, the truth about what happened before, during, and after the partial meltdown was shrouded in secrecy and deception. The new documentary film RADIOACTIVE, directed by Heidi Hutner, gives voice to the community and to four local mothers— Joyce Corradi, Beth Drazba, Linda Braasch, and Paula Kinney, and the legal team who supported their plight, Joanne Doroshow, Louise Bradford, and Lynn Bernabei. The women of Three Mile Island have spoken out for years against government and industry officials’ false assurances and outright lies. Through chilling testimonies and archival footage, Hutner crafts a feminist thriller that exposes the criminal actions of the nuclear establishment in putting an entire community’s health and safety at risk. For anyone concerned about government and corporate transparency, RADIOACTIVE is a sobering must-watch.
“My work stems from learning of my mother’s advocacy work with “Women Strike For Peace” in the 1960s,” Hutner said in a press statement. “Cofounded by Bella Abzug, Women Strike For Peace has been credited for the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that was put into effect in 1963. This treaty was signed by the US, UK, and the USSR. The treaty put an end to atmospheric bomb testing in these countries — what a remarkable feat! It wasn’t until after my mother’s death that I learned of her bravery and advocacy, and that led me to seek out more women’s stories — in the sphere of women and anti-nuclear and environmental activism, women and science, and the disproportionate harm of ionizing radiation on women and nonwhite communities.”
RADIOACTIVE Documentary Shines Light on Cover-Ups
The documentary RADIOACTIVE by filmmaker Heidi Hutner exposes the criminal cover-up of health impacts from the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) in Pennsylvania. Through interviews with whistleblowers, scientists, physicians, and victims, the film reveals how the nuclear industry and regulatory agencies concealed the truth about radiation releases and associated health issues.
Dr. Renu Joshi, who has worked extensively with cancer patients in the area, suspects radiation from the meltdown did harm the residents, says, “More studies should and must be done.”
Suppressed Health Studies
According to former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the NRC conducted secret health studies on people living near TMI following the disaster. The results showed increased rates of cancer and congenital disabilities, but the NRC buried the studies to avoid public panic and legal liability. Scientific work by Steve Wing, David Richardson, David Goldenberg, V.A. Shevchenko, and Aaron Datesman, among others, question this “no harm to the public” claim. Senior oncologist Dr. Renu Joshi, who has worked extensively with cancer patients in the area, suspects radiation from the meltdown did harm the residents, says, “More studies should and must be done.”
Local mother Paula Kinney asks—”Why weren’t our families’ health histories followed by the government? We were promised they would be! We’ve been left to live with these questions all these years, while our family members, friends, and neighbors get sick with cancer and die. We just want the truth.”
Lack of Evacuation Plans
The film discloses that emergency plans to evacuate nearby residents during a meltdown did not exist, despite nuclear industry claims. When the TMI reactor overheated on March 28, 1979, untrained plant operators failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation for hours. When state officials were notified, radiation had already been released into the atmosphere. Over 100,000 people were exposed, but no organized evacuation took place.
Local activists from TMI Alert Alert and concerned mothers, Beth Drazba, Paula Kinney, Joyce Corradi, and Linda Braasch, launched a legal campaign to protect their community from further damage when the nuclear facility announced they would “restart” the reactor station immediately after the meltdown (Reactor 2 melted down, but Reactor 1 remained operable). The activists wanted a thorough investigation of the nuclear company, and they wanted the facility closed down permanently. They did not trust the utility or the government to protect them or to tell the truth. This low-income farming community could not afford to hire a white collar law firm to fight their battle, so, a fearless a single mother waitress, Louise Bradford, with the help of Joanne Doroshow (just out of law school) took on the legal battle against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear company, working pro bono for five years. Doroshow later brought on litigator Lynn Bernabei to help them. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Although the utility was criminally indicted during the legal battle, and a host of cover-ups, lies, and illegal actions on the part of the utility had been exposed, the Supreme Court voted in favor of the “Restart.”
Although the women who fought against the nuclear energy threat lost their case, their efforts helped raise awareness of the issue and the government’s collusion with industry. It is worth noting that the Unit 1 reactor, restarted in 1985, changed ownership and provided electricity to over 800,000 homes for several decades after the disaster. Despite being licensed to operate until 2034, the reactor was eventually shut down on September 20, 2019.
Jane Fonda Lends Star Power to Film About Real-Life Nuclear Scare
With star power and a deep-rooted conviction, renowned activist and actor Jane Fonda amplified the film’s promotion. Fonda’s work in The China Syndrome, a gripping portrayal of a fictional nuclear meltdown, eerily coincided with the Three Mile Island disaster that unfolded just days after the movie premiered nationwide. Fonda has been an outspoken critic of nuclear energy for decades, driven by her unwavering focus on the inherent safety risks and environmental havoc it brings.
Within the film’s narrative lies a collection of interviews with whistleblowers from the nuclear industry, independent scientists, and physicians. They collectively present compelling evidence, suggesting that the radiation fallout from the meltdown catalyzed cancers and various health afflictions affecting the local community. Bafflingly, the nuclear industry fervently refutes any association between the catastrophe and detrimental health effects, choosing to ignore the mounting evidence.
RADIOACTIVE deftly underscores the indispensable roles played by investigative journalism and citizen activism in unearthing the veils of government and corporate deceit. In a time when the current administration aims to dismantle regulations on nuclear power, this powerful film serves as a poignant reminder of the grave human toll incurred by prioritizing industry profits over public safety. In its entirety, RADIOACTIVE is an engrossing and revelatory cinematic experience, laying bare the systemic failures and corruption that allowed the catastrophic events at Three Mile Island to occur.
Film RADIOACTIVE also breaks the story of a radical new health study that may finally expose the truth of the Three Mile Island meltdown.
RADIOACTIVE, the award-winning documentary by filmmaker Heidi Hutner, exposes the truth behind the worst commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history—the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown. The film uncovers the untold stories of locals who battled the atomic industry in court to find the truth, fighting to protect their community.
A Thrilling Feminist Documentary
As described by Cinema Daily, “RADIOACTIVE is a compelling and significant documentary in the grand tradition of such trailblazing women filmmakers as Kimberlee Acquaro, Christine Choy, and Barbara Koppel.” The film follows the brave actions of four homemakers who took on the nuclear plant operator in court, all the way to the Supreme Court, to expose the criminal cover-up of the disaster. It also shares the story of a young journalist caught in the crossfire of the plant’s lies as she worked to report the truth. Featuring interviews with renowned activist Jane Fonda, whose film The China Syndrome opened only 12 days before the Three Mile Island meltdown, the documentary is a “must-see tour-de-force for anyone who cares about our energy future and our planet,” according to award-winning filmmaker Jon Bowermaster. Fonda’s appearance highlights the prescience of her film in foretelling such a catastrophic event.
Breaking New Ground
RADIOACTIVE also breaks new ground, sharing the findings of a radical health study that may finally reveal the impacts of the disaster. For decades, the nuclear industry claimed that “no one was harmed and nothing significant happened,” working tirelessly to cover up the effects. However, the new research suggests otherwise. The findings of this study, in combination with the accounts of locals and expert commentary, make a compelling case that the disaster caused lasting damage.
Exposing one of the worst cover-ups in history, RADIOACTIVE is a chilling and essential film that “will resonate deeply with everyone who sees it,” says Dave Chameides, Emmy award-winning director and cinematographer. This thrilling and impactful feminist documentary demands to be seen. As the Uranium International Film Festival noted, RADIOACTIVE is the “Best Investigative Documentary”—an apt description for this startling and significant work of investigative journalism.
So, what can we learn from the story of these courageous women of Three Mile Island? Their actions serve as a sobering reminder that governments and corporations do not continuously operate transparently or prioritize public safety. However, communities can raise their voices through grassroots organizing and civic participation to demand change. The women profiled in this documentary refused to stay silent in the face of injustice. The Unit 1 reactor was eventually restarted in 1985, changed ownership, and supplied electricity to more than 800,000 homes for decades after the accident. Even though the unit was licensed to operate until 2034, it was shut down on 20 September 2019.Their story stands as a testament to the power of collective action and a warning for us to remain vigilant to prevent future man-made disasters that endanger public health. We all must do our part as citizens to speak up against lies and hold those in power accountable. Our lives could depend on it.
For updates on screenings, go to https://www.firstrunfeatures.com/radioactive.html.
Heidi Hutner, Award-Winning Director, Writer, and Producer
Martijn Hart, Co-Director and Director of Photography
Simeon Hutner, Editor and Producer
Judith Helfand, Senior Consulting Producer
Richard Saperstein, Executive Producer
Joanne Doroshow, J.D., Associate Producer
Suzanne Kay, Associate Producer
Kate Brown, Consulting Producer, is a Professor of Nuclear History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Freke Vuijst, Associate Producer