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The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA): Seriously: It wasn’t funny after a while

Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 12, 1979
Article: Seriously: It wasn’t funny after a while
Author: Blair Woodstock

It’s difficult for me to formulate my thoughts right now. It takes very little to cause my adrenaline to flow. As I write this, I and everyone around me are potentially in the path of a nuclear disaster. It’s an uncomfortable thought.

It is Saturday afternoon. I believe that I am not now in immediate danger from radiation. I also believe that I will be in danger within the next few days. Why did I decide to come to a school so near Three-Mile Island?

It just started to rain. I wonder how that affects radiation? I have heard rain doesn’t affect it. I have also heard that rain does affect it. I’m sitting here in my room, listening to my Kenny Loggins album and staring at the rain.

I turned off the TV. There are less bulletins on now because the situation is temporarily stabilized. I can’t stand watching the tennis match or the baseball game because of something on an island twenty miles away.

I have never been in a potentially catastrophic situation before. I had always thought I would be able to handle it. I thought I would remain clam. I can’t believe my hand is shaking as I write this.

Half the students at this college have gone home. I think I may do the same. I’m glad I live west of here since the wind is blowing north-east. I’m wearing my t-shirt that says “Pittsburgh . . .Some place special.” If I do go home I’ll have to borrow money from someone because I ran out of checks this week. What luck.

Why do I keep picturing archeologists in the year 2079? I can see them venturing on this campus and sifting thought my belongings when the radioactivity is gone. “I wonder if this stereo still works?” they will say.

“Wow, what strange music they listened to in those days. Look at all those old-fashioned clothes. I can’t believe so many people wore those blue denim trousers. . .”

I’m over-reacting. I know I must be over-reacting. The only problem is I can’t really put a period on that sentence without adding a “but.” This is an unprecedented situation. Who knows what could happen? How do we know that the media are telling us the truth? Or the local law enforcement agencies? There are so many rumors flying around on this campus that I don’t trust anybody. I wish I hadn’t seen “The China Syndrome.”

I called my parents and they said I could come home if I wanted to. I called my professor and he said he is excusing people if they miss the exam. Should I go home? I really shouldn’t miss any more classes this semester. Would I be able to study if I stayed? I wish they would cancel classes for a week. I guess if I were dead from radioactivity I wouldn’t care if I flunked my exam.

It’s funny. Yesterday I was making jokes about the situation. Today I think jokes about our future children are sick.

* * *

Now it is Sunday. April Fools Day. Present Carter is in Harrisburg. I have decided to stay here at least until the president of the College speaks again tonight. Last night he said his biggest fear was panic. I have tried to calm down since then. At four o’clock this morning I went out and ran two miles because I couldn’t sleep.

Right now we are all just waiting. We all feel restless and irritable but there is a kind of togetherness that is not usually present here. People are partying a lot or paying raquet {sic} call and tennis to occupy their minds.

When you are reading this, I hope and pray the situation will be resolved. I don’t think, however, that we’ll ever be able to say we were scared for nothing.

The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA): Film becomes terrifyingly real

Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 12, 1979
Article: Film becomes terrifyingly real
Author: Julie Levinson

The use of nuclear energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuel has long been a controversial subject. Dartmouth students have been protesting the construction of a nuclear plant in Seabrook, N.H. for at least four or five years, and No Nukes has become a household phrase. Research in the field of nuclear energy has advanced far, but some of the most vital information, such as adequate cooling systems for reactor rods, has yet to be understood by experts. There is no permanent, safe method of disposal of nuclear wastes which remain in the environment for a much longer period of time then man shall exist on the earth.

It is the duty of the film maker to depict pertinent subject matter in its most sincere form. Michael Douglas, producer of The China Syndrome, obviously felt strongly enough about the problems linked with extended use of nuclear energy to produce this phenomenally accurate film. Surely, Douglas was unaware of the full impact of his film considering the time of release, the content, and the subsequent Three Mile Island incident. Parallels certainly exist, but this film carries much more with it than the similarity to the actual incident.

Douglas portrays an excitable cameraman who stumbles into the world of nuclear energy while filming an energy special with Jane Fonda, a practitioner of “soft news” who aspires to be an investigative reporter over the objections of the station management. While touring the Ventana Nuclear plant in southern California an accident occurs which is termed a routine turbine trip. During the tour, nuclear energy is billed as “the magical transformation of matter into energy.” The diagrams and stage setting are rather authentic looking.

The tour comes to a halt in an observation room overlooking the control area when the accident occurs. Jack Lemmon, who is the man in charge of the plant’s control room first behaves in a blasé manner taking the turbine trip in stride. Soon though, the workers are evacuated to safety area and Lemmon begins to show obvious anxiety.

Douglas, meanwhile, films the whole incident, but cannot show the film on the air because it would be considered irresponsible journalism.

So the dilemma here lies with the fact that Jane Fonda has landed the top story, and she and Douglas along with the efforts of Lemmon must somehow alert the public to the potential danger which accompanies the faulty relay in the generator service and a stuck valve.

The men who represent the owners of the power plant constantly claim there was no accident and that the public was never in any danger. But their main concerns are monetary as they lose $492,000 a day when the plant is shut down.

The television management refuses to allow the film of the accident to be made public and Douglas, who shows vital concern, steals the film and hands it over to a nuclear expert who confirms that the defects in the power plant if left untreated, could “render an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable.”

The technical features of the film itself lack perfection. A secretive exchange of x-rays of damaged welds which would serve as crucial evidence is extremely obvious. Yet on the other hand, the car crashes were delightfully realistic, and silence is the background sound which intensified the suspense towards the end of the film. Jack Lemmon unfortunately never looks like the hero he is, and Jane Fonda becomes extremely melodramatic after Lemmon’s death. The film’s authenticity is its major strength, and this critic feels no need to reinforce that fact. The reality of the possibility of The China Syndrome actually occurring is frighteningly relevant.

The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA): Three Mile Island crisis breeds new culture

Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 12, 1979
Article: Three Mile Island crisis breeds new culture
Author: Sarah L. Synder

It’s rather ironic that what has been termed one of the worst nuclear accidents in U.S. history should turn into such an educational bonanza. Not only has the Physics department been laboring over the compilation of data of soil samples, but other departments have gotten into the act as well.

Professors Julius and Melissa Kassovic, Lonna Malmsheimer and Daniel Bechtel have joined forces with some interested students and are trying to document and analyze individual and group reactions to the Three Mile Island crisis.

According to American Studies Professor Malmscheimer, the group is examining three aspects of culture that are evident when people are faced with a crisis situation. Malmscheimer added that the team is seeing what historical, experiential and cultural elements people draw upon in order to cope with a situation of duress.

Professor of Sociology Julius Kassovic explained that the group wasn’t sure how to start the field work, since the situation at Three Mile Island was not exactly planned. He and the others agreed, though, that they want to do a more comprehensive analysis of the impact of TMI. At present questionnaires are being distributed to students through the resident advisors to collect data.

Although a great deal of the research is being done within the Carlisle and College community, the group had been soliciting reaction, fantasies and folklore from anyone affected by the TMI crisis. Articles and requests for contributions to the study have been published in the local papers, noted Kassovic.

Malmsheimer pointed out that they are also exploring the possibility of obtaining a grant to continue research.

Bechtel emphasized that the thrust of the fieldwork is being conducted on campus, although all the professors’ phones are equipped with recording taps for any phone interviews. Respondents are told about the tap and are asked if their responses can be included in the survey, noted Malmsheimer.

Kassovic said that the written response has been surprisingly good and that people are taking the time to write poetry and limericks about TMI.

Bechtel said that the study was examining the manner in which people bring together riligion, folklore and cultural heritage and discovering what images are part of the collective consciousness of the population. He noted that, for example, the color green has reappeared over and over in reference to radiation poisoning. Information such as this contributes to the study of the undercurrents of the mind and how they are articulated in society, he added.

A part of the second phase of the study, the groups who could not leave during the crisis, such as county prisoners. Kassovic said that the concepts and jokes of groups were valuable sources of information because what is accepted by the group is more likely to become a part of our cultural inventory.

Because the group is interested in obtaining information while it is still relatively fresh, students and others willing to share their dreams, daydreams, experiences, jokes, stories, insights and other reactions should write Reactions to Reactor Project, Box 167, Dickinson College.

The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA): Nuclear Accident inspires faculty study group

Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 12, 1979
Article: Nuclear Accident inspires faculty study group.
Author: (Ed. Note: The following article is an excerpt of a study being conducted by the Reactions to the Reactor Project Study Group. The group consists of Professors Julius and Melissa Kassovic, Lonna Malmsheimer, and Dan Bechtel.)

The College is in Carlisle, 23 miles from Three Mile Island, and by the evening of April Fool’s Day it was clear that only a few hundred of us students, faculty, and administratore were left on campus. Regular classes were suspended, but the decision was made to continue as an institution of learning while awaiting the possibility of becoming an evacuation center. Accordingly, some of us organized mini-seminars, or what we used to call “teach-ins,” on various topics, many related to the situation (crisis? disaster?) on Three Mile Island.

While the physics department had teams of students analyzing soil samples, four of us in the social sciences decided to sample individual and group reactions to the drama in Harrisburg.

With more than twenty enthusiastic students from various disciplines who joined us to do fieldwork, we unashamedly began to investigate three areas of interest to the faculty members involved personal fantasies about the nuclear danger, items of folklore related to the crisis, and the nature of religious responses to the situation. Our first session was devoted to a crash course on fieldwork and interviewing techniques; then armed with an open-ended questionnaire, we went out to talk with students, faculty, staff and other members of the college community.

We apologized for the raggedness of such instant social science. We were in much the same position as salvage archeologists, who must frantically dig a site before it disappears under a parking lot, we fervently longed for the end of the crisis, even though out data ebbed along with the anxiety. So we collected feverishly and feel that our data, however flawed, represents a valuable record of what life was like in a small community at the 23-mile radius.

Any sort of in-depth analysis at this time would be premature, but interesting patterns are emerging.
Personal fantasies and mental images, the particular interests of Prof. Lonna Malmsheimer in American Studies, came primarily from two sources, the media and personal experience with other disasters. In addition to the inevitable “China Syndrome,” informants report such images as the black cloud from “The Swarm,” the panic during the burning of Atlanta in “Gone With The Wind,” and Japanese horror films. Others saw scenes from films transposed to Carlisle: “Hiroshima Mon Amour” on High Street, the evacuation of “War of the Worlds.” “Dr. Strangelove” and “Fail Safe” provided images which helped to structure responses. Some people said they saw themselves “in the middle of a bad movie.”

It is widely accepted that all humor is, in a sense, nervous laughter, an attempt to diminish anxiety by viewing the situation as absurd. Anthropologists Julius and Melissa Kassovic were therefore not surprised that a substantial body of jokes and witticisms had been generated by the Three Mile Island incident. There were many areas of anxiety (Should I go or stay? Will the whole thing explode? Whom can I trust? Will I be sterile? Have deformed children? Die of cancer?); an interesting preliminary finding is that the bulk of the jokes among students concerned possible sterility or impotence (the two were often confused) and the risk of deformed offspring.

The study of religious responses, theological, moral and liturgical, is being pursued by means of a supplementary questionnaire. Prof. Daniel R. Bechtel, a Biblical scholar, reports that thus far the majority of the people interviewed did not think that God had chosen to create a crisis to punish, discipline or instruct mankind. They seldom experienced mental images of comparable Biblical events. These results are evidence, perhaps, that we live in an increasingly secularized society which has lost access to Biblical images as a means for understanding current human crisis.

Those informants who did pray, asked not that God actively interfere at Three Mile Island, but that He give the engineers wisdom and the people surrounding area courage; God was clearly seen as involved in the lives of individuals but not in the workings of mechanical, technological things.

The “Radiation Vacation” is over now; those who coped with the anxiety by going away have returned, and all together we face the minor crisis of making up last week’s classes before the May commencement. We are continuing to collect and analyze last week’s data, and intend to compare them with information from a larger sample with a wider range in age and occupation. We hope to make an eventual statement concerning the cultural inventory on which a population draws when facing an unprecedented situation. An old bit of folk wisdom. has it that a mistake can be of value if you recognize it, acknowledge it, learn from it, and forget it. With all due respect to the folk, we trust that the Three Mile Island will not be forgotten soon; we are trying to learn from it a much as we can about individual and group reaction to crisis. Anyone willing to share his or her dreams, daydreams, experience, jokes, stories, religious experiences or insight, or other reactions should write to Reactions to the Reactor Project, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA 17013

The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA): “Speaking Out”

Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 19, 1979
Article: “Speaking Out”
Author: Complied by Hope Muchnick

In light of the recent situation at Three Mile Island, do you believe that the power plant should be reactivated? Why?

“The Three Mile Island reactor should be reactive providing problems in the back up systems are solved. I don’t believe we can do without nuclear power in this day and age.” Robert Rabuck – ’82

“I don’t think the power plant should be reopened basically because I don’t think they understand what went wrong with it. Furthermore, the question of the storage of radioactive waste has not yet been dealt with by anyone, and they don’t have any place to safely put the waste.” Cindy Waldorn -’79

“I think that nuclear power is an inevitable area of resource, that we have to be able to use at sometime. Perhaps thay should not reopen it until they know how to control it much better. But I think that eventually the power is going to have to be used.” John Leach – ’80

“Yes. Until we can further the development of solar energy or fusion which is not for years to come, we do need nuclear energy. The way solar power looks right now, it is even more expensive and more dangerous than nuclear power. It was very serious, the Incident at Three Mile Island, but the main problem there was the management, and the way that they pushed to finish the plant to that they could declare it on their income tax. I think that the NRC should look into the plant’s problems, make sure that they get the right parts in there and the right management. I think the officials of Metropolitan Edison should be tried and probably sent to prison for the way they managed it.” Tracy Lee – ’81

The Dickinsonian (Carlisle, PA): After Harrisburg nuclear incident anti-nuke campaign gains speed

Newspaper: The Dickinsonian
Date: April 26, 1979
Article: After Harrisburg nuclear incident anti-nuke campaign gains speed
Author: unknown

“Nobody needed this vote to know that Harrisburg had, in a weird way, muddled the mind of the anti-nuclear movement. This is just going to muddle it more,” said a spokeswoman for Austin (Texas) Citizens for Economical Energy. Her group had been trying to get the city out of the South Texas Nuclear Project. In February, a poll showed nearly 60 percent of the people favored the project. By the time of the April 6 vote – nine days after the March 28 Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg began to malfunction – the race narrowed dramatically. The anti-nuclear forces eventually gathered 49 percent of the vote.

It was, of course, only a relative success for the anti-nuclear movement, and that may discourage further attempts to use the ballot to protest nuclear power. The anti-nuclear forces had been showing signs of restiveness at recent gatherings. The accident at Three Mile Island has undoubtedly weakened public confidence in nuclear power, and anti-nuclear activists seem anxious to capitalize on the advantage. The question is how.

Subsequent demonstrations have ranged from a big, relatively calm gathering in San Francisco to civil disobedience in Connecticut to sabotage in Europe.

“The really weird thing,” said the Austin spokeswoman, who requested anonymity, “is that Harrisburg should have been the best worst thing that could happen for opponents of nuclear power. But we can see here that Harrisburg has made a lot of people angrier. They want to do dramatic things now.” She defined “dramatic” as “sit-ins, mass marches, loud things.”

She also feared that “there’s a tactical split in the movement now, at least here. We’ve made steady, orderly progress toward stopping nuclear power. That more violent demonstrations can disrupt that progress – turn people against us – is a worrisome thing.”

Commercial nuclear power has been on the retreat for several years. The reactor industry measures its health by the number of reactor orders received each year. There were no orders in either 1976 or 1977, and only two in 1978. But it costs reactor builders like Westinghouse and General Atomic millions just to maintain the capacity to build reactors, whether or not orders are received.

As a result, Fortune magazine observed two weeks before Harrisburg that unless the “stalemate” between nuclear power advocates and opponents was broken, the capital costs of keeping the reactor industry alive could not be mainainted. The magazine predicted the industry would thus collapse by 1981.

The largest and best-known anti-nuclear group, the Clamshell Alliance in New England, has been coping with internal tensions over tactics since last June. Contemplating a massive demonstration at the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire, the Alliance accepted a last-minute offer from then-Governor Meldrim Thompson to legally meet in a nearby garbage dump. But regional coordinators were furious over the executive committee’s acceptance of the compromise, and serious differences over regional autonomy and civil disobedience surfaced.

“The question of civil disobedience tactics is very real.” Clamshell spokesman Bob Hurwitz said. “One of the central questions is . . . how to maintain a direct action, nonviolent movement that insures each region’s autonomy.”

Clam member Guy Chichester adds, “There is an anarchistic element who argues that sanctity if life is more important than sanctity of property.”

“They feel each Clam should have a high degree of autonomy. Others felt there ought to be rigid guidelines. Guidelines or no guidelines, that’s one of the biggest bits of unfinished business.”

The Alliance couldn’t resolve the issue at its January conference. As a result, the plans for the summer, when all involved expected to intensify the anti nuclear campaign, are relatively uncoordinated. “There are several actions of various sorts – legal and illegal – planned by some of the state Clams,” Hurwitz noted.

The immediate aftermath of the Harrisburg accident reflected a similar disparity of tactics.

On April 7 a crowd of around 7000 peacefully listened to anti-nuclear speeches by Ralph Nader and Daniel Ellsberg in San Francisco, at a rally organized by the Abalone Alliance. Specifically the five-hour gathering was a protest against Pacific Gas & Electric’s $1.4 billion Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is located with 2.5 miles of the San Gregorio Hosgri earthquake fault.

Barbara Bowman of the East Bay Anti-Nuclear Group, one of the Alliance’s component parts, said “our overall tactics have not changed significantly” since the Three Mile Island plant began to leak radioactive steam. Her group will continue “legal intervention” into Diablo Canyon’s procedures.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Event Rated Serious

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Event Rated Serious
Author: Richard Roberts, Staff Writer

Radioactive material continued to be released into the atmosphere late Wednesday night from Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Station in the aftermath of “one of the more serious reactor accidents in the history of commercial power operation,” according to state and federal officials.

Emergency officials in Dauphin, Cumberland, York and Lancaster counties complained that they either were not notified of the emergency or were notified too late.

Radioactive material was being vented from the plant at the rate of one millirem per hour on an indefinite basis as part of a process to cool the reactor, according to Col. Oran K. Henderson, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Henderson said his agency has been placed on “an advanced state of readiness” because of the continued emission of radioactive materials from the plant. He said he has advised officials in Dauphin, Cumberland, York, and Lancaster counties that the plant began venting radioactive materials at 5:00 pm.

A discharge of radioactive material also occurred between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., officials said.
Readings of radioactivity had not indicated any immediate danger to the public, and there were no immediate plans to begin evacuating residents who lived near the plant, Henderson said. “It’s a standoff at the present time,” he said.

“This is one of the more serious reactor accidents to happen in the history of commercial power operation,” said Jan Strasma, a spokesman for the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A breakdown in the cooling system at the plant about 4 a.m. Wednesday of the plant’s Unit 2 reactor, according to an NRC spokesman.

In addition to radioactive materials released into the atmosphere, radiation was beamed through the four-foot-thick, steel-lined concrete walls of the reactor dome to a distance of more than a mile, according to Edson Case, NRC deputy director of reactor regulation.

Strasma late Wednesday night said the maximum amount of radiation measured was three millirems per hour at a site about a third of a mile from the plant. At a site one mile from the plant, a reading of one millirem was measured, he said.

“We believe this is principally direct radiation coming from radioactive material in the reactor containment building, rather than the release of radioactive materials from the building,” he said.

Strasma said: “It now appears that the cause of turbine shutdown at the plant earlier today was a reduction in flow of feedwater to the steam reactors. The sequence of events which led to the release of radioactivity to the reactor containment building is not determined yet.”

Charles Callina, an NRC investigator who spent all day at the nuclear plant, said radiation was being emitted from nuclear-charged water in an auxiliary building.

“We have a serious contamination problem on site,” he said. “You might say from the breadth of the problem it’s one of the more serious. The extent makes it serious, not the breadth.”

Radiation levels inside the reactor housing were 1,000 times above normal, Case said. Radioactivity inside the reactor dome was being measured at a rate of about 6,000 Roentgens per hour, he said.

NRC spokesman Sue Gagner said a diagnostic medical X-ray would emit the equivalent of about .072 Roentgen per hour. Case said radiation levels inside the reactor dome are normally about five or six Roentgens.

George Troffer, manager of generation quality assurance for Metropolitan Edison Co. of Reading, the plant’s operator, said he thought the NRC’s figures were far too high. He said the level was perhaps 10 times more than normal.

The Problem facing TMI employees Wednesday night was to reduce the temperature and pressure inside the reactor dome and to stop radioactive gases from leaking into the atmosphere.

Case said heat-caused pressure inside the dome had risen temporarily to four or five pounds per square inch above the outside atmospheric pressure, enough to cause small amounts of leakage.

He said the leakage might have included radioactive gases from the nuclear fuel- such as iodine and xenon. But Case said pressure was not high enough to cause such heavy fuels as uranium or plutonium to leak.

Joe Fouchard, an NRC spokesman, said the only likely source of high-level radiation being detected appears to be coming from some portion of the reactor’s nuclear fuel. Officials reported earlier that the plant released radioactive steam. Fouchard said steam alone would not be strong enough to penetrate the steel-lined reactor walls.

Fouchard said control rods have been inserted to stop the nuclear reaction in the reactor core. But he said it was not known whether some part of the fuel might have been melted, evaporated, or blown out of the core before insertion of the control rods and injections of emergency cooling water.

William P. Dornsife, a nuclear engineer in the state Department of Environmental Resources’ Bureau of Radiological Health, said the reactor core had become overheated during the accident.

Met Ed spokesman Blaine Fabian said: “There is absolutely no danger of a melt-down” (in which the nuclear fuel overheats until it melts its way out of the containment vessel.)

At one point, TMI employees inside a control room temporarily were forced to put on face masks because radioactive materials leaked into the room, Case said.

Troffer said persons inside the control room were protected from the high levels of radiation inside the reactor housing by both thick walls and equipment and by the fact that radiation loses it energy quickly with distance.

About 50 to 60 of the plant’s 525 employees were in the plant when the accident occurred, according to Bill Gross, TMI public information coordinator.

“We washed them down and scrubbed them,” Gross said. “Nobody has been injured yet.”

Officials declared a state of general emergency shortly after the incident. The plant was evacuated and closed and the reactor building was sealed.

G.E. Parks, manager of Metropolitan Edison Co. consumer services, said TMI officials notified DER, NRC, and the Dauphin County Office of Emergency Preparedness. “We told them as soon as we could reach someone,” he said.

Jack Herbein, Met Ed vice president-generation, operator of the plant, said in a press conference Wednesday morning that radiation levels at the plant’s boundaries were seven millirems, about 1/10th of those which normally would be considered dangerous. The company is continuing to monitor for airborn radiation, he said.

He said the first indication of trouble came at 4 a.m., when two main feed pumps shut down. The Unit 2 reactor “tripped (shut down) on high pressure,” Herbein said. A reactor coolant drain tank overpressurized, he said.

In Unit 2, there are four reactor collant pumps, each capable of generating 9,000 horsepower.

A site emergency was declared at 6:50 a.m.,, he said. Local officials, including Middletown civil defense personnel, were not called by Dauphin County Control until 7:47a.m., nearly four hours after the incident.

Asked why it took so long to notify area authorities, Herbein said: “I don’t think there was any delay. We’re still not to (the point where) a general emergency (is declared).” He said TMI employees acted “promptly and forthrightly” in the incident.

Gross said TMI did not “have to declare an emergency. We had more radiation a couple years ago when we had fallout from the Chinese nuclear explosion.”

Some of the workers who were on duty “may have been” contaminated, but none were hospitalized, Herbein said. “No one was overexposed,” he said.

Asked to characterize the incident, he said it is “one of the most serious” to occur at Three Mile Issland but stopped short of saying it was a “close call.”

No radiation was detected in the Susquehanna River, he said. Although he said it would be “premature to say that we’ll be able to see radiation in cows’ milk,” he added, “I don’t think” the public is in danger.

He said “a very minor amount of fuel failure” occurred in the reactor core. He said perhaps ½ percent of the fuel pins among the 36, 816 rods filled with radioactive material had melted as a result of a lack of coolant. Each reactor has 177 fuel assemblies, each of them having 208 rods filled with 200 pellets of uranium.

Gary Miller, TMI station manager, released the following account of the incident: “We had a turbine trip (a shutoff) early this morning due to a feedwater problem in the secondary side of the plant.

“This caused the reactor to trip (shut off) on high pressure, which was followed by the pressurizer relief valves relieving, which resulted in a radioactive water release in the reactor building.

“Since this radioactive coolant water was released inside the reactor building, this led to the emergency plan implementation. We are presently bringing the plant down to an orderly shutdown condition.”

“To the best of our knowledge, the accident sent two or three milirems of radiation into the air,” Parks said. “One millirem is considered normal in the Middletown area.”

A special team of seven nuclear health physicists from Brookhaven National Laboratory at Upton, N.Y., armed with 10 cases of sophisticated monitoring and analysis equipment, was flown to Capital City Airport in Fairview Twp. by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The scientists landed in a Sikorsky H3 helicopter about 2:40 p.m. and immediately set up air sampling devices on a taxi way near the main terminal building.

Robert Friess, technical assistant to the area manager of the Brookhaven office of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Radiological Assistance Program, said the team received a call for assistance from state officials at 11:30 a.m.

Nathanial Greenhouse, a member of the team, said initial samples taken at the airport showed no evidence of radioactive contamination. He said samples were taken at the airport because it was downwind from Three Mild Island.

It was the first time that the team of scientists, which was formed to respond to nuclear emergencies in 11 Northeast states, had been called to a nuclear reactor mishap, he said.

Coast Guard Commander Al Baker, the helicopter pilot, said his crew took off from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod in Massachusetts at 10:37 a.m. to pick up the scientists at Brookhaven.

Another Energy Department team flew to Capital City Airport from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, in a specially instrumented Hughes H-500 helicopter. Herbert F. Hahn, site manager of the Energy Department’s Eastern Measurements Office, said his team’s mission is to monitor radioactivity from the air.

Hahn established a command post in the office of Airport Manger Charles H. Hostetter. The helicopter, piloted by Jac Watson, lifted off from the airport about 3:30 p.m. on its first flight to scan the air in the Harrisburg area for radioactive materials.

A scientist aboard the helicopter uses sophisticated monitoring equipment and an on-board computer to collect the data, Hahn said. Information from the aerial monitoring will be fed into another computer that is being transported to the airport in a van from Washington, D.C., Hahn said. The computer van was expected arrive about midnight.

Hahn said his team was put into action by the NRC. Aerial monitoring was halted about 6:15 p.m., and was scheduled to resume Thursday about 7 a.m. No results of the monitoring were released.

TMI employees, waiting to be told when and where they would work, milled around outside the Three Mile Island Observation Center. Most had radiation dosometers clipped on their shirts to measure radiation in the air.

“I’m just coming off the 3 to 11 p.m. shift,” Darrell S. Kinter of Dillsburg said. “We’ve had drills for evacuation, but I know of no other time when an abrupt shutdown and evacuation of the island has happened.”

Kinter, an instrumentation technician at Unit 1, said he has worked at TMI for five years.

“I’m not scared,” Kinter said. “I don’t know what happened but they evacuated the island to be on the safe side. They don’t want us there.”

Donald E. Barry of Middletown, a TMI technical analyst in maintenance, said he works in Unit 1 and Unit 2. “I’m not apprehensive about what happened today,” he said.

The National Weather Service at Harrisburg said winds from 4 a.m. until 10 a.m. Wednesday were light and variable. After 10 a.m., the winds were blowing to the northwest at from four to 14 miles an hour. Late Wednesday night, winds were reported blowing to the northwest at 12 mph.

Winds Thursday are expected to blow north to the northeast at 10-20 mph.

Unit 2, a 900-megawatt system, cost about $700 million and was placed into commercial service on Dec. 30. It had been operating at nearly full capacity- 98 percent- for about four or five weeks, according to William R. Gross, a Met Ed spokesman.

Unit 1, an 800-megawatt reactor system, had been shut down for routine refueling and is expected to be placed back into service next week, Herbein said.

The cost to Met-Ed of having to rely on other, coal-fired generating stations to produce electricity is about $500,000 a day, Herbein said. It will be “weeks” before Unit 2 can resume operation, he said.
The plant is owned by General Public Utilities Corp., a consortium of Med Ed, Jersey Central Power & Light Co. and Pennsylvania Electric Co.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Radiation’s Two Sides: Boon, Bane

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Radiation’s Two Sides: Boon, Bane
Author: The Associated Press

Radiation can be as familiar as the sun’s rays or as frightening as the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb.

It is a simple concept with complex effects- effects which even today are not fully understood.

The problems of weighing the benefits of radiation against its potential for danger were highlighted Wednesday when a small amount of radioactive steam escaped from a nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, PA.

Radiation is defined as energy moving through space as invisible waves. The frequency of the waves determines the characteristics of the radiation and their effect on the human body.

THERE ARE two types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation- the kind involved in Wednesday’s accident- creates electrically charged ions which can disrupt body processes, including life. Nuclear weapons produce ionizing radiation: so do X-rays and some television sets.

Non-ionizing radiation- produced by microwaves, light and sound- lacks the ability to create ions. It can, however, disrupt body processes. Too much of it generally causes sickness rather than death, but exposure to massive doses can be fatal.

All persons are exposed to radiation every day; most of it is low-level radiation that poses a minor but continual risk.

The Food and Drug Administration says: “We do not know definitely whether there is an amount of radiation below which injurious effects will not occur.”

Radiation emissions are measured in roentgens or milliroentgens. (there are 1,000 milliroentgens in a roentgen.) A dental X-ray emits about 200 milliroentgens; by law, TV sets may not emit more than half a milliroentgen an hour.

BUT WHEN scientists talk about danger, they talk about rems- or millirems- which refer to the amount of radiation energy absorbed by the body. The average American gets about 100 to 120 millirems a year from background radiation- most of it coming from diagnostic X-rays. The amount of radiation absorbed by the body from a dental X-ray, for example, is generally around 10 to 20 millirems.

Bill Dornsife, a nuclear engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, said the amount of radiation involved in the escape of radioactive steam at the Three Mile Island plant on Wednesday was equivalent to one millirem per hour.

How dangerous is the radiation of modern life?

“You have to put (the danger) in perspective as to what society really wants,” says Dr. Solomon Michaelson of the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We’re always surrounded by radiant energy. Heat and light are examples. They can be very beneficial.”

Allan McGowan of the Scientists Institute for Public Information says the key factor making radiation dangerous is its ability to penetrate the body. Radiation from infrared and ultraviolet rays of the sun can be particularly dangerous because you absorb it in the surface layer of the skin. “Any increase in exposure to radiation increases the chance that something will happen,” he says.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Nuclear Plant Accidents Chronicled

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Nuclear Plant Accidents Chronicled
Author: Unknown

NEW YORK (AP) – Accidents involving nuclear plants or the radioactive fuel that powers them have been infrequent, but not unheard of.

While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington said it had no ready records on accidents similar to the one that affected a nuclear plant Wednesday in Harrisburg, PA, a check by The Associated Press turned up 10 nuclear mishaps here and abroad during the last several years. Some resulted in injuries.

– September 1978: a radioactive leak at a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Tokaimura, Japan, forced suspension of operations of the facility.
– April 1978: Two workers at the Trojan nuclear plant near Rainer, Oregon, were exposed to high doses of radiation. The government found six safety violations and fined Portland General Electric Co, $20,500.
– April 1978: A Georgia state report found that an abandoned nuclear reactor site along the Etowah River was dangerously radioactive while the public camped and picnicked on it.
– March 1978: An explosion occurred at the Vermont Yankee power plant in Vernon, Vt., the second at the plant in four months. No release of radiation or injuries were reported.
– December 1977: Four workers received small doses of radiation while working at a reactor on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Wash.
A month earlier, the Hanford reactor was shut down temporarily after some radioactive water leaked into the Columbia River. Authorities said it wasn’t enough to endanger human or animal life.
– December 1977: In Waterford, Conn., an explosion at the Millstone nuclear
power plant left one employee seriously contaminated from radioactive grains
of sand. The plant’s two reactors were shut down.
– September 1977: About 42,000 pounds of radioactive uranium powder scattered on a highway near Springfield, Colo., after the truck carrying the material overturned.
– August 1977: An accident at an Illinois Power CO. plant outside Clinton, Ill., exposed several workers to direct radiation.
– September 1976: One person was killed and six were injured after being exposed to poisonous but non-radioactive argon gas at the Donald C. Cook nuclear power plant in Bridgman, Mich.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): N-Plant Gone Haywire: Good Idea for Movie, But Real-Life Quandary

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: N-Plant Gone Haywire: Good Idea for Movie, But Real-Life Quandary
Author: Robert Gillette

At the end of “The China Syndrome”- a film not about China but about a defective nuclear power plant that threatens to melt in that general direction- the usual disclaimer rolls by on the screen declaring any similarities to real people and events to be “coincidental.”

Not true. And because it’s not true, “China Syndrome” has become embroiled in a nationwide controversy over the accuracy with which it portrays nuclear technology. The film and the controversy will no doubt find fertile ground in France, West Germany, and Sedan as well, where the nuclear debate is on high simmer. The only certain beneficiaries of this spreading dispute, however, are likely to be the stockholders of Columbia Pictures.

The film is a tale of suspense wrapped around a sophisticated pastiche of real mishaps and defects drawn from the operating history of U.S. nuclear power plants since 1970.

Contributing to the film were three apostate nuclear engineers who resigned from General Electric Co. in San Jose, Calif., under a flurry of publicity in 1976 to join the ranks of nuclear critics. Gregory C. Minor, Richard B. Hubbard, and Dale Bridenbaugh are identified in the screen credits only as MHB Technical Associates, a consulting firm that they’ve established in Palo Alto, Calif.

AS WITH ALL such docudramas, this one raises two questions: Where does the documentary end and the drama begin? And does it matter?

If verisimilitude were the only objective or if the story centered on a cracking dam or defective aircraft, the boundaries of fact might not matter. None, after all, is talking about banning dams or airplanes. But nuclear power is a case apart. And this film comes at an especially sensitive time. The U.S. nuclear industry is four years into an economic slump, its product remains an intensely emotional subject here and in Western Europe, and the industry is keenly aware from its own polls that a large body of America opinion- perhaps 40 percent of all adults- still hasn’t decided whether the benefits are worth the risks.

Under the circumstances then, the boundaries of fact and fiction would seem to matter here. In an effort to define them. The Los Angeles Times discussed the film with Minor and a variety of other nuclear critics and viewed it in the company of four nuclear advocates: a spokesman and an engineer with Southern California Edison, a professor of engineering at UCLA and an engineer from the Bechtel Power Corp., which builds nuclear plants.

THE PERSPECTIVES of pro and con are almost impossible to reconcile, for they bring very different value judgments to bear on issues of risk and benefit. It seems fair to say, however, that “China Syndrome” succeeds as a documentary with small deviations in portraying possibilities by drawing on real safety problems that have plagued the industry. But it fails to provide a sense of probability for accidents serious enough to jeopardize the public.

Thus the film raises the central issue of nuclear safety while doing nothing to clarify it.

Is the possibility of an extremely large accident made acceptable by an extremely low probability? And if so, what probability?

Accident probabilities can’t be defined with any precision. It is widely accepted, however, that the chance of any one reactor suffering a core melt-down and releasing harmful amounts or radiation (sufficient to cause several hundred latent cancer deaths) is about one in 60,000.

Probabilities decrease with the severity of potential accidents; the likelihood of the worst case accident, involving 1,000 or more immediate deaths, might be one in a million each year if 100 power reactors were operating.

IN A WAY, the film redeems its evasion of this issue by merely suggesting that the China Syndrome could happen, without actually depicting it. It is not giving away too much to reveal that the fictional “Ventana” nuclear power plant suffers damage but doesn’t melt down and destroy Los Angeles. This is not the nuclear version of “Towering Inferno.” In the end, the nuclear profession’s motto is vindicated- “Defense in depth: Back up systems to backup systems to backup systems.”

The plot turns on a near accident at “Ventana,” where a faulty relay starts a chain of events leading toward but stopping short of a meltdown. A TV crew on the scene to do a feature, films the incident surreptitiously, then pressures mount to suppress the film.

A control room supervisor, portrayed by Jack Lemmon, later probes the cause of a mysterious shudder that he felt during the episode, uncovers a dangerous structural weakness (defective welds in a pump support) that one of the utility’s contractors has covered up with fraudulent X-rays and documents.
Running scared, Lemmon seizes the control room and threatens to “flood the containment with radiation” unless he’s allowed to expose the flaws, but after an hour’s standoff the utility thwarts him by shutting down the reactor from outside.

COULD IT HAPPEN? Parts of it have happened at different times and places over the last decade. Combining disparate events, though, puts a different gloss on the significance of each.

Most of the near-accident in the movie is based on a June 5, 1970, episode at Commonwealth Edison’s Dresden II nuclear plant near Chicago. Here, a turbine trip caused the reactor to shut down, blowing large amounts of radioactive cooling water into a doughnut-shaped receptacle called a torus (designed for that purpose) around the reactor’s base.

Operators inadvertently overfilled the reactor with cooling water- the reverse of events in “China Syndrome” – in an effort to cool the still-hot core of uranium. At no time in the two-hour episode was there a danger of a melt-down or a release of harmful amounts of radioactivity into the environment.
In both the Dresden incident and the movie, the high pressure emergency cooling system is down for repairs and out of commission. And in both the real and fictional incidents, a stuck pen recorder misleads reactor operators seeking to keep the reactor core covered with water.

THE LOW-WATER problem in the fictional reactor is drawn from the Browns Ferry reactor fire in Alabama on March 22, 1975.

Here, a workman with a candle started an electrical fire that damaged 1,600 control cables (680 of them involving safety systems) for two operating reactors. More than eight hours were required to stabilize water supplies in one reactor; operators were forced to rely on backup pumps not intended for emergencies.

Whether the Browns Ferry reactor came close to melt-down or not depends on whom one asks. Nuclear critics consider it a close call. However, a special review group for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission concluded that while a melt-down was possible, and the availability of emergency systems would have been “comforting,” destruction of the reactor was “rather easily forestalled.”

The three engineers who viewed the film with a Times reporter said they found it moderately entertaining and a generally realistic, if eclectic, portrayal of terminology and technology. But at several points, they said, it veered from reality to sustain the storyline.

FOR INSTANCE, Eugene N. Cramer, of Southern California Edison, said that most, if not all, reactors operating today have redundant high-pressure emergency core cooling systems. If one were down for maintenance, as in the movie, others would have automatically discharged to keep the water level up, thereby undercutting the drama, Cramer said.

The engineers also took issue with the ease and speed seemingly implicit in the film with which a turbine shutdown could lead to a reactor melt-down: “A turbine trip is a once-a-year event in a power plant,” said William E. Kastenberg, a professor of engineering at UCLA, “there are many causes. It’s a normal event.”

Though he and others agreed that it’s possible for small mishaps to lead to large ones, they said the chain of events in between is long and improbable and requires a number of coincidental mechanical failures or operating errors. Cramer estimated that a large melt-down would take at least 60 hours to proceed, allowing time for evacuating areas around the reactor.

Even then, he said, it was likely that the massive concrete containment around the reactor- the last line of defense- would retain most or all of the radioactivity in the molten fuel.

CRAMER NOTED that over the years several partial reactor melt-downs have occurred (only one in a commercial plant) with no release of radiation harmful to the public. The most serious incident, in October 1966, melted four uranium fuel assemblies in Detroit Edison’s Enrico Fermi reactor, an early and unsuccessful breeder reactor. The reactor subsequently was repaired, operated again briefly, then mothballed.

Could one man take over a control room and cause a reactor accident? It hasn’t happened, and industry experts insist that a reactor could be shut down in much less than the hour consumed in the film.

Gregory Minor agreed: “In the film, that is stretched a bit for the story. I agree that in reality you could probably find something to trip it in a hurry.”

Could X-rays of a nuclear plant’s welds be falsified successfully? “We have had instances of falsification of records,” an NRC spokesman said. “In many cases, employees involved in the work, but not the documentation, have come to us with allegations. Most of the allegations have turned out to be false, but a few have not.”

IN AUGUST 1975, for instance, Boston Edison paid the NRC a $12,000 fine for allowing a contractor employee to falsify routine weld inspections in the utility’s Pilgrim 1 reactor. An investigation showed no weakness in the welds, however, “and hence there is no safety problem,” the NRC said at the time.

Whether safety succeeds in the nuclear industry depends, of course, as much on enforcement by the commission as on clever technology. Probably nothing illustrates the gulf between advocates and opponents of nuclear power as their perceptions of the film’s portrayal of the NRC: The industry engineers said the “China Syndrome” incorrectly depicted the NRC as a weak and superficial agency that licenses reactors like an automaton, whereas in reality the NRC sometimes shuts plants down precipitously.

Nuclear critics, on the other hand, think the film gives too much credit to the NRC for a determination to root out and solve safety problems.

“If the movie is misleading, the only respect is the impression that the NRC investigation is going to do some good,” says Robert Pollard, a former NRC engineer who is now a full-time critic of the industry and the agency.

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