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Photo: Our own nuclear event

The cooling tower of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., on March 30, 1979, two days after a partial core meltdown. Photo: AP/Barry Thumma

In the early morning hours of March 28, 1979, a mechanical failure at the Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island began a chain reaction of events that led to the worst accident in the history of U.S. nuclear power industry.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station is located on an island in the Susquehanna River, south of Harrisburg, Pa. The plant had been operating for five years, Unit 2 for only one year,  when at approximately 4 a.m., the main feed water pumps stopped running, which prevented steam generators from removing heat from the reactor. The reactor automatically shut down, but pressure in the nuclear portion of the plant began to increase. To prevent excessive pressure buildup, a pilot-operated relief valve opened, but failed to close again once the pressure decreased. Because of confusing and contradictory instruments, operators at the plant were unaware that the valve was stuck open, and as a result, radioactive cooling water drained out and caused the core of the reactor to overheat. During the early stages of the accident, the core suffered a partial meltdown as about one-half of the fuel pellets melted, but it did not breach the walls of the containment building.

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Photo: Armed support for allies

A gun was handed over to a Libyan boy during a rally in support of the allied air campaigns against the troops of Moammar Gadhafi in Benghazi, eastern Libya, on March 23. Photo: AP/Anja Niedringhaus

Photo: Penguins in peril

Three crude-oil-coated rockhopper penguins on the island chain of Tristan da Cunha in this image made available by Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on March 22, 2011. Photo: AP/Trevor Glass, RSPB

On this day in 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill blanketed the area around Prince William Sound in a thick layer of destructive sludge. While no longer the record holder for the largest oil disaster in the United States — that honor goes to last year’s Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico — images of polluted marine life have come to symbolize the dangers of overdependence on crude oil. Today brings more images of sea animals in peril, this time from the South Atlantic.

The MS Olivia, a Malta-registered cargo ship carrying 66,000 tons of soya beans and 1,650 tons of crude oil, ran aground last week in a remote British South Atlantic archipelago and broke in two. The ship was traveling from Brazil to Singapore when it struck Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha chain, resulting in a 13-kilometer-wide oil slick that has since encircled the island. Nightingale Island is home to more than 200,000 endangered northern rockhopper penguins, almost half of the species’ global population. More than 20,000 penguins are estimated to have been affected, and rescue workers have already gathered about 500 oil-coated birds.

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Photo: A super-size scrub

Sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan scrubbed the external surfaces on the flight deck and island superstructure to remove potential radiation contamination on March 23, 2011. Photo: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch

Air operations aboard the USS Ronald Reagan were temporarily halted today so more than 300 crew members could clean the ship of potential contamination from a radioactive plume off the coast of Japan on March 13. The mast-to-deck scrubdown was conducted mainly using high-pressure sprayers, brooms and seawater.

The aircraft carrier was 100 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant when it encountered the low-level radiation plume emitted by the plant. The radiation levels were determined to be low enough to continue humanitarian operations aboard the ship, including serving as a floating refueling station for the Japan Self-Defense Force in Operation Tomodachi (Operation Friendship).

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Photo: Well, well, it’s World Water Day!

A young boy in an urban slum in Bangladesh enjoys some well water during the heat of summer. Photo: U.N. Photo/Kibae Park

Photographs and video from the tsunami in Japan remind us of the destruction that too much water can do to a community. And yet, the United Nations estimates that more than 1 billion people have inadequate access to clean drinking water.

Getting information like this out there is the focus of the day: World Water Day!

In 1993, the U.N. General Assembly designated March 22 as the first World Water Day to focus international attention on the importance of freshwater and to promote sustainable management of freshwater drinking sources. It reports that rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters have greatly affected urban water systems around the world.

Each year, the U.N. campaign highlights one aspect of freshwater, such as water scarcity (2007) and sanitation (2008). This year’s topic is water and urbanization.

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Photo: Sudden, sad goodbye to Knut

Knut, the polar bear cub, peeks around the legs of zoo director Bernhard Blaskiewitz during his first public appearance in the Berlin Zoo on Friday, March 23, 2007. Photo: AP/Franka Bruns

Germany’s most famous polar bear, Knut, died unexpectedly in his enclosure in the Berlin Zoological Garden over the weekend. Bear keeper Heiner Kloes told the Associated Press that Knut was not sick and his sudden death is a mystery. A necropsy will be performed today to determine the cause of death. The average lifespan for a captive polar bear is 30 years. Knut was 4 years old.

Knut became a celebrity and star attraction when he was born in captivity on December 5, 2006. He had been rejected by his mother at birth and was hand-raised by zookeepers. After he was presented to the public 15 weeks later, the resulting “Knutmania” brought in what is thought to be millions of euros in merchandising and revenue for the zoo. He even had his photo taken alongside Leonardo DiCaprio by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

Approximately 600 to 700 people were watching Knut in his enclosure at the zoo Saturday afternoon when he suddenly began to experience what appeared to be a massive seizure. He spun in circles, began convulsing, fell down and tumbled into the water, where he was found dead. Video of the death had circulated on the Internet.

Thousand of visitors have been gathering at the compound to leave flowers, notes, stuffed Knut toys and candles.

Photo: The pearl of Bahrain

Bahraini anti-government protesters at the Pearl Roundabout on February 19, 2011. Photo: AP/Hassan Ammar

Before the discovery of oil in the 1930s, the main source of income for the gulf kingdom of Bahrain was pearl diving. As a testament to its past, an iconic statue was constructed at a major traffic intersection in Manama, the capital city, and named the Pearl Roundabout. The monument consisted of six sloping “sails,” representing the six Arab countries of the Arabian Gulf, rising high into the air. Perched on top where the sails converge was a giant white pearl. It was considered a major landmark in Bahrain, showing up in every tourist’s “must see” list when visiting the kingdom. The Pearl Monument is even featured on the highest value coin in Bahraini currency, the half-dinar.

Today, it was demolished.

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Photo: End of the rainbow

It is St. Patricks Day! If you plan on participating in a pub crawl today, make sure to bring your own pot of gold, like this fellow did during the Shamrock Shuttle earlier this month in Philadelphia. Photo:AP/Joseph Kaczmarek

Photo: The toll on Midway

A Laysan albatross chick that was washed inland by tsunami waves at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Pete Leary

The tsunami created by the earthquake off the coast of Japan last week had far-reaching effects, as seen by the damage in Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. Right in the pathway of the tsunami waves between Japan and the United States is Midway. Mostly known in the United States as a key military base for the U.S. during World War II (and the subject of the Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda movie of the same name), the three sandy islands are now home to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Located approximately 1,250 miles northwest of Honolulu, the refuge supports nearly 3 million individual seabirds, representing 21 species, plus monk seals, turtles and dolphins. It is one of the most remote atolls on earth and home to the largest Laysan albatross colony in the world.
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