The 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station in Pennsylvania released about 22 million Curies of xenon-133 into the environment. Because physical dosimetry indicated exposures to the nearby population of less than about 2 mSv, discernible impacts to the health of the exposed population are not generally believed to have resulted. However, there is contrary evidence, including especially the results of biodosimetry via cytogenetic analysis using the FISH method. This report examines the discrepancy between the results of physical dosimetry and biodosimetry, which among the small number of persons examined indicated exposures between 600 and 900 mSv. The paradox reveals a fundamental error in the health physics body of knowledge: the definition of the energy imparted to tissue, ε, fails to properly account for the temporal distribution of ionization products resulting from dilute contamination with an internally incorporated beta-emitting radionuclide. Application of a century-old result describing “shot noise” in an electronic system repairs the deficiency. The Xe-133 concentration in the tissue of those individuals exposed to the most intense portion of the radioactive plume released from the TMI facility is shown to have been on the order of 0.1 μCi/l, persisting for multiple hours. Shot noise reference doses in the range from 820 to 1,700 mSv follow, a result which is consistent with biodosimetric analysis. The finding should motivate a comprehensive re-evaluation of the conventional understanding of the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station, especially regarding its impact upon the population of the surrounding area.
"Correcting that single omission, it is shown that the true biological impact to those most exposed to radioactive releases from the damaged facility (measured as a reference dose) lies in the range at or above 1,000 mSv. The exposure is sufficient to explain acute effects observed at the time of the accident, including radiation sickness."