Newspaper: The Sentinel
Date: April 11, 1979
Article: An accounting is top priority
Author: Mary Anne Mulligan
The worst is over now.
And as the nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island slowly cools down, central Pennsylvania are calmly trying to reclaim lives interrupted two weeks ago by the worst commercial nuclear reactor accident in U.S. history.
Some things will never be the same.
For a week, Three Mile Island was the center of the globe.
The nightly network news originated in Middletown, a borough whose very name harks back to Middle America.
But in this Middletown, the unseen nuclear terror held those who did not flee in its unpredictable grip.
Now, evacuees have returned and reporters have left, and the aura of excitement and immediate fear has passed.
BUT THE STORY is not over.
The fear of cancer and leukemia among those who may have been exposed to abnormal radiation levels will persist for many years, and the effects of the mental anguish caused by a week’s fear of the unknown may never be fully relieved.
It was a silent crisis, with none of the turbulence of other disasters.
But it is already causing an uproar.
Metropolitan Edison, the utility that operates the plant, announced last week it would consider passing costs of the accident on to its costumers, the same people who were nearly victims.
That news came fast on the heels of a $49 million Met-Ed rate hike approved by the Public Utilities Commission March 22, a week before the reactor accident.
That increase was formalized March 29, the day after the accident, but the PUC delayed the actual implementation by not approving the company’s “compliance filing” of its exact rate schedule.
Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Mark Widoff called for an immediate suspension of the rate hike April 4, and PUC staff members Monday filed a petition for rehearing on the grounds that the increase was approved with the understanding that both reactors at TMA would be working.
BUT, FOR NOW at least, neither reactor is in operation.
Unit 1, down for refueling at the time of the accident, cannot be fired up until Met-Ed responds to an NRC bulletin issued April 5.
That bulletin was sent to operators of all reactors in the country similar to Unit 2, and it laid out guidelines to which operators were asked to respond.
Final responses to the bulletin are due by April 16, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Gary Pitchford.
“Any action would come after Med-Ed’s response is received,” Pitchford said.
Meanwhile, Met-Ed faces NRC penalties that may include revocation of the license for Unit 2.
“Revocation of a license is one of the enforcement alternatives we would have,” said NRC spokesman Jim Hanchette. “But it’s at the extreme upper end of the enforcement alternatives, and the most unlikely.
“As long as they have an NRC license, they are responsible for the plant.”
Hanchette said license revocation is the least likely possibility.
With the license, Met-Ed is financially responsible for the plant. If the license were revoked, someone else would have to pick up the tab for cleaning up the damaged reactor site.
Yet if that price tag is high enough, Met-Ed may be forced into bankruptcy proceedings.
That eventuality would probably be less disastrous for customers than it sounds, according to Joseph Malatesta Jr., PUC’s deputy chief counsel.
“We would take every step to ensure that service would be continuous through the bankruptcy proceedings,” he said.
“Bankruptcy is usually a reorganization – there’s a settlement of its creditors and a new company usually springs from it.”
But more immediate problems remain for Met-Ed.
The company’s nuclear accident insurers, American Nuclear Insurers and Mutual Atomic Energy Liability Underwriters, had paid $815,000 in liability claims by Monday night, an insurance company spokeswoman said.
Claims this week were being accepted only from pregnant women and preschool children and their families who were told to leave their homes within a five-mile radius of the plant.
Spokeswoman Carol Dower said the insurers cannot yet make a statement on other types of claims they might accept.
Under federal law, the insurance company pays the first $143 million in claims to victims of a nuclear accident. Assessments of $5 million each on the nation’s 67 licensed nuclear reactors can provide a second layer of coverage, and the federal government can add $85 million more, if needed.
The 1957 Price-Anderson Act places a $560 million ceiling on nuclear accident insurance coverage.
The company also faces a lengthy series of hearings on the federal, state and local level that will attempt to answer many of the questions surrounding the accident.
Newspaper: The Sentinel