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The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Hospitals Can Test Those Linked to I-131

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Hospitals Can Test Those Linked to I-131
Author: Mark Klaus, Staff Writer

Although a person would have to be exposed to “quite a bit” of radioactive iodine 131 to be harmed, concerned persons exposed to it after a leak Wednesday at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station can be tested at local hospitals, according to two area doctors.

Dr. Frederick Flickinger of the Harrisburg Hospital Department of Nuclear Medicine and Dr. Francis X. Perna, endocrinologist, agreed that it would take “quite a bit” of I-131 to harm most people. They declined to define how much that would be, saying it depends on the area covered and the people affected.

“I-131 has been and is continuing to be released into the air,” said Dr. Jan Strasna, public affairs officer with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “But in air and grass samples taken earlier today, the I-131 level was not above the minimum level. Certainly now some I-131 is being released from the plant.”

Therapeutic I-131 frequently is used to tread hyperthyroidism, a condition of an overactive thyroid gland, by destroying part of the gland, thus cutting down on its overactivity. The thyroid contains the only tissue able to keep iodine for any length of time.

Flickinger said that persons worried about being exposed to I-131 in the TMI accident can have their thyroids monitored by a counter. He said there are no long-term effects to most persons exposed to I-131.

“When people are exposed to radioactive iodine either in gas or liquid form, we can monitor their thyroid gland by putting a detector to the throat and checking the gland,” Flickinger said, adding that radiation was not administered to patients taking this monitoring.

I-131 also is used in treating some cases of thyroid cancer, Flickinger said. He holds degrees in nuclear medicine, nuclear radiology and diagnostic medicine.

I-131 also is used in treating some cases of thyroid cancer, Flickinger said. He holds degrees in nuclear medicine, nuclear radiology and diagnostic medicine.

Perna said adverse effects from I-131 for persons with a regular-functioning thyroid would depend on age.

“The problem is not the development of hyperthyroidism, underactive thyroids, but of thyroid tumors,” Perna said. “There have been lots of animal experiments, such as those comparing lambs with adult sheep. It has been found that it takes less radioactive iodine to produce tumors in the young than in the old.”

Perna said experiments on children exposed to radioactive iodine testing in the South Pacific indicate that children can develop thyroid tumors easier than adults exposed to the same level.

“But it would have to be an awful lot of I-131 escaped into the air to produce any problems,” Perna said.

A Pennsylvania State University Capital Campus staff member, Robert Goldstein, has called for a full epidemiological study immediately by independent experts regarding the short- and long-range effects of the nuclear accident.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Scranton: Emission Levels Were Played Down

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Scranton: Emission Levels Were Played Down
Author: Carmen Brutto, Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. William W. Scranton III and Metropolitan Edison Co. officials underplayed the extent of radioactive emissions caused by the radiation leakage Wednesday at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station.

Initially state officials were led to believe that emissions were limited to the few hours after the leakage was discovered at 4 a.m.

However, Scranton told a late afternoon press conference that Met Ed “has given you and us conflicting information.”

“This situation is more complex than the company first led us to believe,” Scranton said. “We are taking more tests, and at this point, we believe there is still no danger to public health.

“There has been a release of radioactivity into the environment, the magnitude of the release is still being determined, but there is no evidence yet that it has resulted in the presence of dangerous levels.”

SCRANTON met with reporters shortly before 11 a.m. to brief them on the incident. Later, he said that even as he was making his report, the company was discharging into the air steam that contained detectable amounts of radiation. According to Scranton, the discharge occurred between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., and was a part of the “normal” reactor emergency cooling process.

“It was done to relieve potentially dangerous pressure in the reactor chamber,” he said. “Because of an apparent leak in the primary cooling system, radioactive material was discharged into the air along with the steam.”

Scranton said the Department of Environmental Resources was not notified of the release until about the time it was halted. The company said that further discharges may be necessary and said it would notify the state should it happen, he said.

The detected levels of radiation were below any existing or proposed emergency action levels, the lieutenant governor said.

“But we are concerned because any increased exposure carries with it some increased health risks,” Scranton said. “The full impact on public health is being evaluated as environmental samples are analyzed. We are concerned most about radioactive iodine, which can accumulate in the thyroid, either through breathing or through drinking milk. Fortunately, we don’t believe the risk is significant because most dairy cows are on stored feed at this time of the year.”

Scranton said teams from the state Department of Agriculture would begin testing cows for any evidence of contamination.

TESTS ARE also being conducted in the area by teams from DER, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Preliminary evidence, Scranton said, was that levels had been decreasing throughout the afternoon.

Thomas Gerusky, head of the DER’s Bureau of Radiological Protection, said slight amounts of radiation had been detected as far away as Harrisburg.

The highest detected amount of radiation was at seven millirems, Gerusky said. For comparison, he said a chest x-ray exposes a person to from 20 to 100 millirems.

Gerusky said the detection teams would move out from the immediate plant site to make checks on possible contamination.

“Until we can determine the maximum possible exposure, we won’t know what the worst case (of exposure) could have been,” Gerusky said. “It should be very, very small.”

Scranton indicated “a great deal of disappointment” that the company did not make full disclosure on its actions, particularly the decision to vent the contaminated steam.

It was unclear as to exactly what happened to cause the radiation seepage from Unit 2 at Three Mile Island following a malfunction in a turbine. From information given Scranton by Met Ed, there was at least a failure of a valve in the primary system, and some evidence of a fuel element rupture.

The government, he said, would conduct a probe into the incident.

At the morning press conference, state officials said a time lag of more than three hours in being notified about the breakdown and a lack of sophisticated mobile monitoring equipment hampered the state’s reaction to the accident.

THE STATE was dependent upon Met Ed on the extent of the radiation as well as all other factors connected with the failure.

According to William Dornsife, nuclear engineer in DER’s Bureau of Radiological Protection, it was not until 7 a.m., or three hours after the turbine shut down, that Civil Defense officials were called.

(Scranton said later that the company reported it had not detected radiation until about 6:50 a.m.)
Oran Henderson, Civil Defense director, said a Met Ed official called at 7 a.m. and said “we have an emergency,” without going into detail. Civil defense notified DER and local CD units in York, Dauphin and Lancaster counties, and then later those in Lebanon and Cumberland counties.

“Initially, our report was that it was a serious incident, so our procedures were to prepare for possible evacuation in the York County area only,” Henderson said.

However, he said, within a quarter hour confirmation came from DER that the situation was not serious. Neither Henderson nor any other official at a special press conference could clarify who first termed the situation “serious.”

Henderson said he was bothered by the fact that Met Ed officials waited until 7 a.m. to inform the state of the emergency situation.

According to Dornsife, Met Ed sent its personnel to the plant boundaries and to Goldsboro to take radiation readings. They detected a small amount of radioactive iodine on the ground, he said.

“It was at a level that would not cause any inhalation problem with people,” Dornsife said. “It may show up in the milk, within a week or so, like during the (Chinese atomic test) fallout incident we had a couple of years ago.”

CONTAMINATION, he said, was measured at one milirem per hour, in an area with a normal background radiation of about 100 milirem per year.

Dornsife said DER personnel would take confirmatory samples later on to determine what the iodine levels are.

At the time of the press conference, about seven hours after the initial detection of the radiation leak, Dornsife said that DER personnel charged with monitoring the atmosphere “are standing by in our office.” Asked why they were not at the site of the leakage, Dornsife replied:

“Because we haven’t felt that they needed to be. We relied on the company’s instrumentation.”
The state was depending on the utility, he said, because it does not have mobile equipment similar to the company’s.

The equipment to corroborate the company’s findings is in DER laboratories, Dornsife said.

“We can’t go out in the field immediately and take a sample and read it at that point,” he said. “We’d have to go out and take it and go back to our laboratory. It would take time. That’s why we’re relying on their mobile equipment.”

Dornsife said the department has no legal authority to go inside the plant and monitor. He said routine monitoring of the environment is done by taking air samples, river samples, soil samples and checking them in the laboratory.

In addition, Dornsife said DER does a confirmatory analysis of the monitoring data gathered by Met Ed.

Efforts by the DER to buy its own monitoring equipment have been stymied by the Legislature’s refusal to provide the funds, he said.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Scientists Seek Closing

Newspaper: The Patriot
Title: Scientists Seek Closing
Date: March 30, 1979
Author: Mark Klaus

A Nobel Prize winner and a radiology professor, agreeing Thursday that radiation levels near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Station were 15 times above normal after Wednesday’s radiation leak, called for a permanent shutdown of the plant.

Dr. George Wald, winner of the 1967 Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine and professor emeritus of biology at Harvard University, and Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, director of radiological physics of the University of Pittsburgh, spoke to more than 100 reporters at a press conference at the Friends Religious Society facility, Sixth and Herr Streets.

“My feeling is that the plant should be permanently shut down and the money scheduled to be spent on other nuclear plants should be used to convert them to clean gas and oil facilities,” Sternglass said.

Sternglass said he brought a portable radiation monitor with him from Pittsburgh and measured radiation in Pittsburgh during the flight and near TMI.

“The reading I got in Pittsburgh was .01 millirem per hour,” Sternglass said. That reading is considered normal for the Middletown area, he said.

“During the flight, I measured .02 to .03 millirems per hour,” Sternglass said. “Three miles away from TMI, the reading was nine times higher than normal and one mile away, it was 14 to 15 times higher than normal.”

Sternglass said that as the plane “passed TMI, the reading was .08 to .09 per hour. Inside the terminal and in the taxi, the reading was 10 to 12 times above normal. Here in Harrisburg, the readings are twice normal,” he said.

“And this is not counting the radiation levels that will get into water and milk. This is what I call a major nuclear fallout,” Sternglass said.

The nuclear power industry had told lies about the dangers of radiation, Sternglass said he believes.
“In the deserts of Utah, children are dying three to five times faster than usual because of radiation there,” he said.

Sternglass said he believes the radiation here will slightly increase an area person’s chance of getting cancer.

‘It’s not an enormous increase,” Sternglass said. “The TMI accident is not a disaster where people fall dead on the floor-it’s a disaster that creeps up on people.”

Wald said that cancer may appear up to 30 years after exposure to radiation, especially when one stays near the grounds. He said he disagreed with company officials who said nobody at the plant had a radiation overdose.

“Every dose of radiation is an overdose,” Wald said. “A little radiation does a little harm and more radiation does more harm.”

Sternglass said more women exposed to radiation stand a higher chance of giving birth to retarded children. He also said that “we’ve seen people age faster” after exposure to radiation.

While Wald and Sternglass did not specifically comment on the lack of evacuation of TMI neighbors, they agreed that pregnant women should leave.

“Two to three miles from the area was hardest hit and the pregnant women living there should be evacuated,” Sternglass said. “If I had a pregnant wife, I’d have her move. The fetus has a risk 100 times greater than an adult.”

Wald said pregnant women who leave should not return until the levels fall “to 50 percent or 100 percent above normal. For myself, I’d rather not be close to that plant today.”

And the effects of the TMI incident could be far-reaching, the two agreed. “It might affect Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia if contaminated milk, cheese, eggs and butter are sent there.

Do Wald and Sternglass believe nuclear plants will never be safe?

Wald said nuclear power plants can be run safely-but at the risk of lessening profits.

“The business of the power industry is not to make power but to make money,” Wald said. “The industry has regularly cut corners to save money. And from the very beginning, the American insurance companies have refused to insure nuclear plants, making the bulk of liability rest on the government. The money comes from the taxpayers.”

Sternglass, calling for the closing of nuclear power plants, said less than 10 percent of the cost of the plants is needed to convert them to gas and oil plants.

“I believe the chances of nuclear plants shutting down and being converted are good,” Sternglass told a Patriot reporter. “Some have been shut down in Sweden. We need energy without endangering our people.”

Dr. Irving Stillman of Columbia, Md., head of the Mobilization of Survival scientific task force, termed the idea of making safe nuclear power plants “nonsense. This TMI example demonstrates that there’s not enough safety built into the nuclear power plants.”

Stillman said that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had previously identified 22 potential safety problems at TMI.

“TMI has closed several times in the past due to valve problems,” Stillman said. “The people in charge of the plant have been warned several times and didn’t take heed.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): ‘Foul Up’ Sketched for Panel

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30, 1979
Title: ‘Foul Up’ Sketched for Panel
Author: Peter J. Bernstein, of our Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON-Federal regulators told a panel of concerned members of Congress on Thursday that “multiple failures” in the cooling systems at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island power plant forced the reactor to overheat and send radioactivity seeping through the plant’s massive concrete walls into the surrounding environment.

“It was some foul-up,” said Joseph Hendrie, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He acknowledged under questioning that a “similar” mechanical failure involving the plant’s cooling system occurred last Nov. 3, forcing the plant to shut down for repairs. The problem then was brought under control without any release of radioactivity.

This time, for reasons that weren’t immediately clear, he said, operators at the huge plant activated a rarely used emergency cooling system to keep enough water surrounding the reactor, then shut off the system only five minutes after it began operating.

Though the accident involved a greater degree of radioactive contamination than any other incident at a commercial reactor in U.S. history, the radiation in nearby communities is quite low and not dangerous to human life, he indicated.

He said federal monitors measured radioactivity levels to 20 millirems an hour a mile downwind from the plant. Exposure for three hours at that level, he said, is comparable to the radiation dose from a chest x-ray.

The radiation levels inside the reactor building, however, are a different matter. Instruments within the concrete containment building surrounding the reactor showed radiation levels of 20,000 millirems at the top of the building and levels of 10,000 millirems near the operating area, he said. Radiation would have to reach that intensity in order for gases to penetrate the four-foot thick containment walls.

In a hurriedly organized briefing for members of the House subcommittee on nuclear power, Hendrie said the NRC has launched an investigation into circumstances surrounding the accident at the $1 billion complex.

What is known is that the accident occurred about 4 a.m. Wednesday when a key part of the plant’s cooling system failed to function properly. Yet federal authorities weren’t notified until 7:45 a.m. Some state and local officials weren’t told about the accident until much later. “We still don’t know why,” he said.

The severity of the problem apparently wasn’t immediately recognized, he said, until high radiation levels began showing up in the cooling water.

He said that after the plant’s cooling system failed, the flow of water used to take the heat away from the reactor and generate steam was interrupted. This led to a stopping of the steam turbine and a consequent closing of the nuclear reactor.

However, even after a reactor is closed down it continues to generate enormous quantities of heat for some time. This heat apparently caused a buildup of pressure within the plant’s primary cooling system, which includes the reactor core.

To relieve that pressure, some radioactive water from the main cooling system had to be discharged into the lower level of the reactor containment building. The water reached six feet at one point.

At the same time, enough water had to be retained around the reactor to keep it from heating to dangerously high levels that could lead to a “melt-down” of the reactor core and a large release of radiation into the environment.

According to Darcell Eisenhut, deputy director of NRC’s Division of Operating Reactors, a plant operator, evidently fearing a possible melt-down, triggered the emergency cooling system.

“Five minutes after the emergency cooling system went on, it was turned off. We don’t know why, or the details, but it was turned off,” Eisenhut said.

What happened, he said, is that the resulting buildup of pressure within the reactor “blew open” a release valve, enabling radioactive gases to fill the containment building. “The release valve may have hung open,” he said.

“We’ve had a number of instances when relief valves have failed,” Hendrie told the subcommittee.

Although the plant at present is in “stable condition,” there was damage to reactor fuel rods and the inside of the containment building was seriously contaminated, Hendrie said. He said the damage was serious enough to keep the plant closed down for some time.

The plant, owned by General Public Utilities Co., (the parent company of Metropolitan Edison Co.) began operating late last year. The company’s other unit at Three Mile Island is currently is closed for routine maintenance. This unit is currently scheduled to return to operation early next month, though it couldn’t be immediately determined whether the accident at the other unit would affect that schedule. The two units can generate a total of about 1.7 million kilowatts of electricity.

Hendrie said the Pennsylvania plant is “typical” of many light water reactors currently operating in different parts of the country. Asked if NRC would shut down all such nuclear facilities as a precautionary measure, Hendrie said that would be unnecessary. “We haven’t seen anything this far that suggests generic problems” involving other plants, he said.

The accident, however, is the latest in a recent series of events that seem likely to damage seriously the cause of nuclear power, which already is in deep trouble.

Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., chairman of the subcommittee which held the briefing, said the accident “is going to make us look harder and with a more skeptical eye at proposals to expand and expedite nuclear development.” He said this was another in a series of conventions of those who think we have rushed headlong into a dangerous technology without sufficient understanding of the pitfalls.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): 4 Counties Still on Alert

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30th, 1979
Title: 4 Counties Still on Alert
Author: Richard Roberts, Staff Writer

Dauphin, Cumberland, York and Lancaster counties remained on standby evacuation alert Thursday as radioactive materials continued to be released from Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station on an indefinite basis, state officials said.

Meanwhile, John G. Herbein, vice president-generation for Metropolitan Edison Co. of Reading, operator of the plant told a press conference in Hershey on Thursday that another accident “could conceivably happen again.”

“All plans and procedures are based on (the possibility of) it happening again,” he said. “We’re capable of handling something more serious.”

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said low-level radioactive material was being emitted from the plant at a rate of 1 millirem per hour, the same rate as it was being released Wednesday.

“The reactor has not reached cool-down yet,” said Jim Cassidy, an agency spokesman. “From Thursday it will take two to three days to clean up the plant to the point that the initial problem has been solved.

“We don’t know if they’ll continue to emit radiation at the same rate during that time.”

Emergency officials in the four counties are receiving updated radiation-level reports on a 24-hour basis during the stand-by alert, Cassidy said. “We want to be prepared, if necessary to carry out an evacuation.”

County emergency preparedness offices in the four counties are being staffed around the clock with special personnel who would facilitate an evacuation, if needed, he said.

Cassidy said: “Evacuation is unlikely and is almost out of the realm of probability. There would have to be a drastic change in the amount of radiation being emitted for that situation to change.

“The situation as it stands is stable. The facility is continuing to vent. They’re working toward a cool-down on a continuous basis.”

State Health Secretary Dr. Gordon MacLeod said the radioactivity does not pose a health threat.
“The (State Department of Environmental Resources’) Bureau of Radiological Health has been monitoring the radioactivity and assures us that it is well within tolerable levels,” MacLeod said. “I see no reason for a citizen to have any health concern in regard to the Three Mile Island accident.”

Cassidy said the area of radiation is “widespread and dispersing.” He said there have been no reports on the effect of rainfall early Thursday morning. “We’re not concerned at this time about how whether patterns are affecting the radiation,” he said.

The National Weather Service here said winds early Thursday were blowing out of the southeast at less than 10 miles an hour. After noon, winds became easterly at six to seven miles an hour. After 6 p.m., winds were southeasterly at about five miles per hour.

A Met Ed spokesman said the temperature and pressure inside the Unit 2 reactor containment building were dropping Thursday. Pressure had dropped from a maximum of 2,350 pound per square inch during the height of the accident to 700 psi on Thursday.

“This is considered normal, good and safe,” he said.

The temperature in Unit 2 was at 780 degrees Fahrenheit, the spokesman said. Normal operating temperature is 600 degrees.

The spokesman said one reactor coolant pump was operating normally and steam was being “dumped” to a mean reactor condenser as part of a process of cooling down the reactor core.

“The only leakage into the atmosphere at present is vapor coming from water evaporating from sump pumps in the auxiliary building,” he said. “It is only mildly radioactive, within accepted limits, and this radioactivity is constantly going down.”

The spokesman said three are no “verified figures” of radiation overexposure to Three Mile Island employees. “There was and is no exposure in any gross amount to the workers,” he said.

Special cleanup crews have begun working in the auxiliary building that was contaminated by radioactive material, the spokesman said. No employees have entered the reactor building to examine it or begin decontamination, he said.

At Capital City Airport, a U.S. Energy Department team flew eight helicopter aerial sampling missions, according to Herbert E. Hahn, site manager for the Energy Department’s Eastern Measurement Office.

During the hour-long flights, data on radiation levels is gathered by special monitoring equipment and stored in a computer on board the craft, Hahn said. The information is then fed into another computer on the ground that was transported to the airport in a van from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Hahn would not release the results of the surveys. He said the information is being transmitted by telephone to a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission Incident Management Center at King of Prussia, where the data is being assessed.

Herbein, speaking at the Hershey Motor Lodge, said that the core of the Unit 2 reactor and the fuel rods “may have been damaged” during the accident.

He estimated that one or two of Unit 2’s reactor and fuel rods were damaged during the accident.
As much as 15,000 gallons of radioactive water spilled out of the Unit 2 reactor into an auxiliary building during the accident, he said, adding that none of the contaminated water drained into the Susquehanna River. The spill occurred in a sequence of events after a “scram,” or emergency shutdown of the reactor.

A 350,000-gallon holding tank overflowed, spilling 100,000 gallons of water onto the floor of the reactor containment building, he said. A sump pump in the reactor building transferred some of the superheated radioactive water into the auxiliary building, where the radioactive vapors were vented, he said.

Emergency reactor core safety systems “functioned as they were supposed to,” but some pumps and valves failed, Herbein said. Met Ed “has no major problems” with the failure of “a few pumps and valves” because it can rely on backup systems “with hundreds of pumps and thousands of valves.”

Asked whether a Met Ed employee in Unit 2’s control room had mistakenly shut down an emergency reactor core cooling system during the course of the accident, Herbein said: “I don’t think we can say at this point.” But he said he had “not ruled out human error.”

Herbein said he believes no one near the plant received more than a 10-millirem exposure of radiation in a 24-hour period.

“The average U.S. citizen is exposed to 200 millirems a year from the sun, the beer he drinks and TV,” he said. “If there was any exposure at all off-site, it was not more than an additional one millirem per hour.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Students Measure Extent of Fallout

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30, 1979
Title: Students Measure Extent of Fallout
Author: Chuck Muir, Staff Writer

Chinese weapons testers taught students at Hummelstown more about nuclear radiation than has one of the more serious accident in a nuclear fallout just a few miles away at the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station.

The last Chinese nuclear bomb test sort of rang the bell on radiation monitors used by nuclear science students at the Lower Dauphin High School, but radiation discharged after an equipment failure Wednesday at TMI barely pushed levels above normal.

Teacher Vernon Lyter says “usually there’s nothing to monitor,” so his students viewed the TMI emergency as a chance to see the detectors detect. Two students Thursday made a field trip to two elementary schools close to the power station; others tested at the high school.

Readings at Londonberry School, closest to TMI, were “about 10 to 15 percent above normal,” 15 counts per minute on a scintillation counter. Normal fluctuations “run that high,” Lyter said.

He said he would be concerned only if the counter, an unsophisticated device, showed 1,000 counts per minute. Even the readout from the Chinese bomb fallout, higher than from the TMI fallout, was considerably below that.

Readings recorded by students “were much, much higher, about 100 to 250 percent above normal, after the Chinese nuclear weapons testing” Lyter said.

The count was below normal at Conewago School, about four miles from TMI, and slightly above normal at the high school.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Radiation: Who Said What

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30, 1979
Title: Radiation: Who Said What
Author: Associated Press

Who knew there was a leak? When did they tell?

The answers about radiation after Wednesday’s accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg were slow to come and confusing. They were still confusing on Thursday.

The first word, at 9 a.m.: no leak.

An hour later: Yes, there was a little leak.

Twenty-four hours later: “We concede that it’s not just a little thing,” said Don Curry, a spokesman for Metropolitan Edison Co., which owns and operates the plant.

Utility officials and government authorities didn’t waver from assertions that there was no danger to public health or safety. Little else remained constant as the story unfolded: (Times are approximate.)

9 a.m.-James Cox of the Pennsylvania State Police: A “general emergency” has been declared by plant officials. “Whatever it is, it is contained in the second (nuclear) unit. They said there is no radiation leak.”

Frank Ingrahm, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington: There has been “some kind of accident” at the plant. Authorities in Harrisburg say a water pump used to cool the nuclear reactor broke down at 4 a.m. Judy Botvin, a plant spokeswoman, says she does not know whether radiation leaked.

10 a.m. -Some radiated steam escaped, but the radiation outside the plant is not dangerous. Blaine Fabian of Metropolitan Edison: “At this time, there have been no recordings of any significant levels of radiation and none are expected outside the plant.

11 a.m.-Karl Abraham, public affairs officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Philadelphia: “What they’re seeing is extremely low radiation. It appears to be confined to inside the containment structure, the steel reinforced concrete dome around the reactor. They have not detected any significant radiation off site.”

Bill Dornsife, nuclear engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources: “There was very little wind this morning so the radioactivity shouldn’t have gone very far. What small release there was will be confined to the local vicinity.” The company did not contact the state Civil Defense until 7 a.m., three hours after the accident. “We will investigate whether there was any lag.”

Dave Klucsik, a spokesman for Metropolitan Edison: “There is no danger of a meltdown. We are not in a ‘China Syndrome’ situation.” He refers to a current movie about the cover-up of a nuclear catastrophe involving the failure of a cooling mechanism at a nuclear plant.

Noon-Lt. Gov. William Scranton III: “There was a small release of radiation to the environment…No increase in normal radiation levels outside the plant.”

Metropolitan Edison President Walter Creitz: “Immediately when it happened we sent teams out…We could detect nothing above natural background radiation. There was a small release, but you know, this couldn’t detect it…the exact amount. I’ll be honest about it, I don’t know.”

1 p.m.-Dornsife: The radiation leak is equivalent to one milirem per hour. (Rems and milirems are used to measure the radiation absorption by the body; on average, Americans are exposed to about 100 or 120 milirems per year.) “Nobody was in the containment shell” when the steam escaped.

2 p.m.-Jack Herbein, vice president for generation at Metropolitan Edison: “Some (workers) may have been contaminated. It’s nothing we can’t take care of.”

3 p.m.-Creitz: Monitoring at the edge of the 200-acre plant site show an increase of 2 to 3 milirems per hour in radiation levels.

4 p.m.-Scranton: “This situation is more complex than the company first led us to believe. Metropolitan Edison has given you and us conflicting information.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission: The accident sent radiation through the plant’s 4-foot thick walls and sent low-level radiation as far as a mile from the plant site.

Joe Fouchard of the NRC: “There’s a hell of a lot of radiation in the reactor building.” Radiation from steam alone would not penetrate the steel-lined walls. The only likely source of such high-level radiation appears to be some portion of the reactor’s fuel. It is not known whether part of the fuel might have melted, evaporated or blown out of the core before the reaction was stopped.

Leonard Matt, public relations consultant for a group representing General Public Utilities, the consortium of which Metropolitan Edison is a part: “Some damage to the cladding (the insulation around the fuel) may have occurred.”

Richard Esteves, director of corporate communications for General Public Utilities: “The story has changed throughout the day.”

5 p.m.-Herbein: “I’m sure some of (the workers) got exposure, but positively none were over-exposed.”
Fouchard: “We believe there is direct radiation from radioactive material within the reactor building.”

6 p.m.-The government says the accident apparently damaged the reactor core and may have let radioactive material into the atmosphere. Edison Case, deputy director of reactor regulation for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Radiation levels inside the building registered 1,000 times normal.

Scranton: Steam containing radioactive material was released into the air for over two hours to “relieve potentially dangerous pressure” in the reactor.

Dornsife: “Something caused the core to overheat.”

7 p.m.-Case: Radioactivity inside the reactor dome was measured at a level of 6,000 Roentgens. The normal level in the dome is 5 to 6 Roentgens. “A damn lot of radiation.”

General Public Utilities: There was “some low level release of radioactive gas beyond the side boundary…Despite this release, the company does not believe the level constitutes a danger to the health and safety of the public.”

Officials in Washington: Available readings indicate there no hazard outside the plant.

Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., chairman of the Senate subcommittee on nuclear regulation: “I am informed that the emergency core cooling system was turned off prematurely-resulting in a partial blockage of water needed to cool the nuclear core and keep it under control. Some human error seems to have been involved in responding…”

10 p.m.-George Troffer, manager of generation quality assurance for Metropolitan Edison: He disputes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claim that radiation inside the reactor dome was 1,000 times normal. The level was perhaps 10 times normal, he says.

Government investigators: Radiation could be measured 16 miles away from the plant, but the reactor core was not damaged.

Charles Gallina, an NRC investigator: Radiation was emitted from contaminated water in an auxiliary building when officials intentionally sent steam into the air, not knowing it was contaminated. “We have a serious contamination problem on site. You might say…it’s one of the more serious…Nothing critical failed, but it’s a dirty problem.”

Bob Fries, of the Department of Energy: Officials measured up to 70 milirems at the plant site-about two and one-thirds times the amount of a chest X-ray.

James Higgins, an NRC reactor inspector: “They (radiation levels) are high, but not yet crucial. It was not close to a catastrophe.”

Midnight-Another leak may have developed in the ½ inch thick rods containing uranium pellets to power the reactor.

7 a.m. Thursday-Walter Creitz: The plant is shut down safely and the level of radiation released “would not endanger or injure any people.” He does not know precisely what caused the accident. “Anything that man makes will not operate perfectly. A piece of equipment failed.”

9 a.m.-Radiation leaks continue. Don Curry, a Metropolitan Edison spokesman: “The vapor that is now going into the atmosphere…is only mildly radioactive within accepted limits.” The vapor is from a sump pump, designed to remove water after it has cooled the reactor. “We concede that it’s not just a little thing.”

11 a.m.-Herbein: Of the 100 to 120 employees in the reactor area at the time of the accident, only 10 to 15 had to be decontaminated with showers. “There is presently no danger to the public health or safety. We didn’t injure anybody, we didn’t over-expose anybody, and we certainly didn’t kill anybody.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Radioactive Iodine Traces: Milk Producers ‘Wait’

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30, 1979
Title: Radioactive Iodine Traces: Milk Producers ‘Wait’
Author: Mark Klaus, Staff Writer

Harrisburg area dairy industry spokesmen have adopted a wait-and-see attitude after federal regulators found some radioactivity in milk samples taken from near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant after a radiation leak Wednesday.

“Threshold levels” of radioactive iodine were found in milk samples in the area, according to Ed Jordan, Nuclear Regulatory Commission assistant director of reactor operations inspection. But Jordan said there was no immediate threat to health from the radiation.

Milk samples taken from seven area cows found that one cow had an iodine concentration of 20 picocuries per liter, according to Thomas Gerusky, director of the Department of Environmental Resources’ Bureau of Radiological Protection.

He said that during a previous fallout from a Chinese nuclear bomb, hundreds of picocuries per liter were found in milk.

“The Department of Agriculture has taken four samples of milk from farms in a certain radius,” John Nikoloss, public information officer for the state Department of Agriculture, said. “The Department of Environmental Resources will conduct tests.”

Nikoloss said he was “basically not concerned about a problem of radiation in milk because we’ve not gotten a statement from DER that the radiation is sufficient to cause harm.”

SPOKESMEN FROM two area diaries said they had not been informed of radioactivity in their milk.

“We are not aware of any radioactivity in our product,” according to George Nagel, sales manager at Lenkerbrook Farms Milk, 7750 Allentown Blvd.

He said Lenkerbrook cows are feeding inside, not grazing outside, and the state Milk Sanitation and Animal Industry bureaus are monitoring the situation closely. Wengerts Dairy in Lebanon processes Lenkerbrook’s milk.

“Naturally we’re upset because this adversely affects our business,” Jim Smith, assistant to the president at Harrisburg Dairies, 20th and Herr Streets, said. “But as of now, we have no reports of contamination.”

Both Nagel and Smith said although people seem concerned, they are not at a panic stage.

“I got about 30 calls from customers but they’re not panicking,” Nagel said. “They don’t seem overly concerned. Lenkerbrook got more calls on this problem than the Chinese one, I guess because this is local. We only got four or five calls the last time.”

Smith said Harrisburg Dairies has had “quite a few inquiries today, but not as many as during the Chinese scare.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Nuclear Dangers Doubted

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30, 1979
Title: Nuclear Dangers Doubted
Author: Carmen Brutto, Staff Writer

Officials of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday on-site radiation conditions continue on Three Mile Island with “no danger” to persons residing in the off-site area.

They were joined by Gov. Dick Thornburgh who told a press conference that area residents should not disrupt their daily routine in the aftermath of the failure of a turbine at Unit 2 in the nuclear generating plant on Wednesday.

Thomas Gerusky, director of the Department of Environmental Resource’s Bureau of Radiological Protection, said radiation levels in Goldsboro decreased at selected spots from 20 millirems per hour at 6:30 a.m. Thursday to one millirem per hour at 2 p.m.

Gerusky also said that milk samples taken from seven cows on area farms found one having an iodine concentrate of 20 picocuries per liter. In the fallout from a Chinese nuclear bomb explosion several years ago, Gerusky said, the picocuries per liter “measured in the hundreds.”

“I believe, at this point, that there is no cause for alarm, nor any reason to disrupt…daily routine, nor any reason to feel that the public health has been effected by events on Three Mile Island,” Thornburgh said. “This applies to pregnant women; this applies to little children; and this applies to our food supply.”

THORNBURGH commented on what he called a “conflicting” array of information being fed the public and added that “I feel that I have succeeded” in separating fact from fiction on the more important questions.

“While the danger is under control at this time, it is very important that all of us remain alert and informed,” the governor said. “We will continue to do everything we can to see that this is done.”

Dr. Charles Gallina, NRC investigator, and James Higgins, NRC reactor inspector, said conditions on the island and in the area were steadily improving.

While the reactor heat was stabilizing, Higgins said, there was no estimate on how long the Metropolitan Edison Co. must wait before it reached a cold shutdown area.

Gallina said test flights in the vicinity, as much as 10 miles to the north, found contamination of about two-tenths of one percent of a millirem per hour. Ground checks found contamination “below detectable activity,” he said.

Gallina said release rates of radiation at the building housing the contaminated water “have dropped drastically.” He added that radiation emissions from the area were only a problem on the site.

“There are no off-site dangers at present,” Gallina said. “There is a logistical problem for people working on site. Based on what we have been able to determine, there is no danger off-site.

“There is a danger for workers from radiation. We respect it; we do not fear it. We do the job as it has to be done.”

The off-site areas have a normal background radiation reading of 100 millirems a year, according to Gerusky. He said a typical chest or dental X-ray exposes the patient to 30 millirems of radiation. Some areas in northeastern Pennsylvania, he said, maybe have normal background radiation of 200 millirems per year because of uranium deposits.

ASKED WHY the off-site readings on radiation fluctuated, Gallina described the contaminants as moving in a cloud which disperses under atmospheric conditions. He also said that the radiation from the nuclear plant emissions differs from an atomic bomb explosion in that the former has a shorter life, and the latter’s staying power contaminates areas.

Thornburgh was asked for his assessment of the impact the failure at the Three Mile Island facility might have on the development of nuclear power in the country.

“Anytime you have an accident that indicates the systems are not infallible, it causes a review process,” he said. “I and others are going to want to be assured by a thorough investigation that what occurred here is not some basic fault in the mechanism (for) making nuclear power. I don’t think it ‘tolls’ the use of nuclear power, but shows we can’t run pell-mell into a form of energy we don’t have a handle on.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Bubble Shrinks-Maybe

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: April 3, 1979
Title: Bubble Shrinks-Maybe
Author: Richard Roberts, Staff Writer

A federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission official Monday expressed cautious optimism that a hazardous gas bubble inside the Unit 2 reactor vessel at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station may be decreasing in size and may be less potentially explosive than previously feared.

Harold Denton, director of the NRC’s Office of Reactor Regulation, said at a news conference at Middletown Borough Hall that initial mathematical computations show a “dramatic decrease in bubble size.”

But he declined to say the situation is no longer serious. He also declined to say whether an evacuation of area residents still might be required.

The bubble, composed mostly of hydrogen gas, was estimated to be 80 cubic feet on Monday, compared to 850 cubic feet “a few days back,” he said. The bubble is considered a major stumbling block to cooling down the damaged reactor core.

“The equation used to calculate the bubble size is sort of a first-order approximation. It’s shown a dramatic decrease in bubble size,” he said.

The new figure “is certainly reason for optimism,” he said. “It is certainly going the direction that I’d like to see.”

But Denton cautioned that the figure may not be accurate because some influencing factors, or “effects” were not taken into consideration. He said the apparent dramatic change in the size of the gas bubble “has caused me some skepticism.”

“I don’t want to stampeded into concurring that the bubble is actually this small,” he said. “We’re trying to do more sophisticated analysis to be sure that the equations that are used to calculate the bubble size properly include all effects.

“We didn’t focus on the accuracy of that calculation as long as it wasn’t changing. I’m having the staff right now look into the details of that number, and I hope to be able to agree with it or not in the near future.”

Denton could not explain the reason for the apparent change in the bubble size, adding that there was no change or acceleration in efforts to remove dissolved gas from the primary coolant.

“I didn’t expect such a rapid change, and that’s one reason I want to carefully look at it,” he said.

Denton said new calculations show that the rate of oxygen production inside the reactor vessel is less than he reported on Sunday. A mixture of oxygen and hydrogen in certain proportions can be highly explosive.

Both hydrogen and oxygen are being produced continually in the reactor core by the natural process of radiolysis-the breaking down of water into its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen.

Denton warned Sunday that because on the danger of explosion, a decision on whether to take extraordinary steps to force the bubble out of the reactor vessel would have to be made “within five days or less.”

It was feared that an explosion (illegible) reactor vessel could cause a (illegible) of coolant and lead to a melt-down, in which tremendous amounts of radioactive material would be released.

Denton said the revised rate of (illegible) generation is based upon (illegible) consensus of technical (illegible) that “for situations such as this where there’s high oxygen overpressure in a vessel, that the oxygen evolution rate is very low.”

Based upon the revised calculations, Denton said a decision on whether to force the bubble out no longer must be made within five days. Asked when the final cooling-off process of “cold shutdown” would occur, he said: “there is no time-frame pressure for cold shutdown.

“The core is being adequately cooled in this pressure mode, and before we go to cold shutdown, we want to check out the heat-removal system.”

Asked if he thought an evacuation still might be needed, Denton said: “I think the evacuation plans are controlled by the state. My own view is that my own concerns with regard to the potential for a hydrogen explosion to the bubble are diminishing.

“I briefed the governor last night. I briefed him this morning on the events as I see them. The decision regarding evacuation is the governor’s responsibility.”

Denton said he did not advise Gov. Dick Thornburgh to order an evacuation.

The temperature of fuel rod assemblies in the reactor core are declining, Denton said. But he said two of the assemblies registered more than 500 degrees and that four of the assemblies registered more than 400 degrees.

The levels of radiation in the area surrounding Three Mile Island are declining, Denton said. Dosimeter readings from 37 locations around the plant during a 24-hour period ending late Sunday night showed a high of 1.1 millirems per hour and a low of .04 millirems per hour.

The NRC is investigating two reported findings of iodine 131, a radioisotope that accumulates on grass, is ingested by cows and eventually contaminates their milk. “We’re still checking these out,” Denton said.
Efforts to remove hydrogen gas from the reactor containment building from using “recombiners” to convert hydrogen and air into water were not initiated early Monday morning.

Scientists are concerned that the continual generation of hydrogen and oxygen by radiolysis in the containment building might create a potentially explosive mixture.

Denying that there is any “significance” to the delay, Denton said he wanted to be “firmly convinced” that the recombiners are properly installed, and tested for leaks.

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