Category: Newspapers (page 3 of 12)

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.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): ‘I Can’t Think of a Worse Time for This to Happen’ – Nuclear Plant Proponents See Fuel for Critics

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: ‘I Can’t Think of a Worse Time for This to Happen’ – Nuclear Plant Proponents See Fuel for Critics
Author: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Supporters of nuclear energy said Wednesday that an accident at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant could not have come at a worse time because nuclear power already is under severe criticism.

Meanwhile, some nuclear power critics complained that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should have closed down the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, saying it had a history of problems although it is only a year old.

But officials of Metropolitan Edison, the utility operating the plant, claimed the earlier problems were not related to nuclear safety.

“I can’t think of a worse time for this to happen- coincidental with the China Syndrome” a recently released movie about an accident at a nuclear power plant, said an electric utility official, who asked not to be identified.

NUCLEAR POWER, once considered an answer to the country’s energy needs, has had a succession of setbacks in recent years including increased public concern about nuclear waste and the prospects of nuclear plant accidents or sabotage.

Earlier this month five East Coast atomic power plants were ordered shut down by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission so that studies could be made to determine whether they had design faults which might make them susceptible to earthquakes.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, an anti-nuclear power group, called Wednesday for government examination of all the nation’s nuclear power plants to determine whether essential cooling pipes and fittings are strong enough to withstand an earthquake.

Company officials said a valve blew out a water pump at Three Mild Island. Government officials said the accident filled the nuclear reactor containment shell with radiation and released some radioactive material into the atmosphere.

While nuclear power industry spokesmen made optimistic statements, they conceded that no matter what the final outcome of the Three Mile Island accident, it will provide a rallying point for opponents of atomic power.

“The system worked, the system shut itself down. There was no catastrophic accident as all the critics said there would be. I can be very positive in that vein,” said Ron Bianchi, a spokesman for the Atomic Industrial Forum, a nuclear industry group.

ANOTHER FORUM official, who asked not to be identified, conceded that “whether or not the public sees it that way is another question.”

Richard Pollock, head of consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s antinuclear organization Critical Mass, said the Three Mild Island plant demonstrates the dangers of nuclear power.

“The nuclear program has 72 nuclear plants licensed to operate and they produce 3 percent of the energy,” Pollock said. “The question is should this country assume those kinds of risks because of 3 percent. We contend the answer is no.”

Pollock said that the Three Mile Island plant had repeated problems since it began its shakedown stage a year ago and had been shut down for five of those months. The plant opened for commercial use December 30, 1978.

“There was a red flag waving that this was a trouble plant,” declared Pollock.

Officials of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said problems during a plant’s shakedown stage are not unusual.

Dick Klingaman, a Metropolitan Edison spokesman, confirming the plant had been shut down for five months, said the earlier problems were related to pressure release valves in the secondary system driving the plant’s turbine and not “safety problems associated with the reactor core.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Melt-Down Most Feared of Accidents

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Melt-Down Most Feared of Accidents
Author: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP)-Cooling systems, such as the one that failed at a nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, are the critical key to safety in nuclear power.

The accident most feared by environmentalists and scientists alike is the breakdown of the elaborate coolant apparatus which keeps nuclear reactors from overheating, erupting, and releasing deadly radiation into the atmosphere.

Less than two weeks ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered the shutdown of five large nuclear power plants because of questions about whether their cooling systems could withstand earthquakes.

In the Harrisburg accident, a water pump used to cool the reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant broke down, resulting in the release of some radiated steam into the atmosphere. Authorities said, however, that there were no injuries and the radiation outside was not considered dangerous.

The cooling system is critical in a nuclear plant because of the intense temperatures at which a nuclear reaction occurs. If the nuclear fuel should overheat, it could melt and burn its way through the protective enclosure, ultimately releasing radioactivity to the outside.

Reactor core melt-down would occur at a temperature of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the approximate melting point for the nuclear fuel.

Normally the operating temperature inside a reactor core is about 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit and the cooling water is pressurized at some 1,000 to 2,000 per square inch to prevent it from boiling into steam.

The NRC, however, requires that the primary and emergency cooling systems work well enough to prevent the temperature of any part of the nuclear fuel from ever going beyond 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, less than half the estimated melting point.

Scientists generally agree that a break in a pipe carrying cooling water is one of the most threatening accidents, risking dispersion of radioactive materials.

To prevent such a catastrophe plants have backup cooling systems, to rush cooling water to the core casing if the primary system fails.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Protest Filed Over Delaying Announcement

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Protest Filed Over Delaying Announcement
Author: Associated Press

YORK-The York County civil preparedness defense director said Wednesday he is “burned up” about the failure of officials at the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station to report a water pump malfunction immediately after it was discovered.

The pump is used to cool a station reactor.

Leslie Jackson, who is director of the York County Emergency Radio Network, said his office first was notified of the emergency at 7:27 a.m. Wednesday. The reactor broke down at 4 a.m., according to authorities.

“We are to be notified immediately of a malfunction and failure to notify me immediately is a violation of the regulations handed down by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources,” Jackson said.

He said he has lodged an official protest with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

“I informed the state director, Col. Oran Henderson, of the displeasure of the York County Board of Commissioners and myself about the three-hour delay,” Jackson said. “It was inexcusable.”

The incident marks the second time in two years that an area plant failed to immediately notify York County civil defense officials of equipment malfunctions.

“A couple of years ago, the Peach Bottom Atomic Plant waited several hours to report a problem and the commissioners and myself were angry with the plant officials,” Jackson said.

The Peach Bottom plant is located along the Susquehanna River in Southern York County near the Maryland state line. There were no radiation leaks or injuries during the Peach Bottom incident.

York County civil defense officials and the county’s emergency radio network have an established plan to follow when an emergency occurs at either of the nuclear energy stations.

“Residents of the two areas are immediately notified of possible dangers and evacuation plans are set in motion,” Jackson said.

At 7:27 a.m. Wednesday, he said, the plan was put into operation.

“That plan should have been initiated shortly after the malfunction was discovered at 4 a.m., not three hours later,” Jackson said.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Three Mile Island: Legacy of Trouble

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Three Mile Island: Legacy of Trouble
Author: Barker Howland, Staff Writer

The Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station has been a center of controversy both before and after its dedication Sept. 19, 1978.

Construction on the island began in 1967 and the first 800-megawatt unit was placed in operation in 1974. The construction of Unit 2 began in 1970, but delay after delay, protest after protest, hearing after hearing followed each other causing temporary setbacks in getting it ready for operation. Added to all this, there was a minor fire, a labor dispute and an incident which caused some doubts about security.

Hearings on the application by Metropolitan Edison Co., Jersey Central Power and Light Co. and Pennsylvania Electric Co (whose consortium owns the nuclear facility) to operate Unit 2-Unit 1 was already in operation-first were held by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in April 1977 at Harrisburg’s Federal Building.

The hearings were held as a result of a petition by the Citizens for a Safe Environment and the York Committee for a Safe Environment. The petitioners requested that the board withhold an operating license for Unit 2 until emergency and evacuation plans were shown to be workable through live tests. The petitioners contended that the evacuation plans were “inadequate and unworkable.”

AT THE hearings, the staff of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission presented an estimate that it might require three to six hours to evacuate a 45-degree area stretching out five miles from Three Mile Island.

A mass demonstration against licensing of the reactor was held on May 31, 1977, when about 100 residents of the Goldsboro area released hundreds of helium-filled balloons bearing tags calling attention to the danger of nuclear fallout.

Those who found the balloons were asked to write on the tags where the balloons landed and mail the tags to Citizens for a Safe Environment, a Harrisburg-based organization. It was noted on the message tags that “fallout from a nuclear accident may travel this far.”

Sponsors of the protest were Harrisburg Friends Meeting, Harrisburg Area Community College Association for Peace, Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, Harrisburg Center for Peace and Justice, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Two days after the demonstration, the hearings resumed in the federal building and during this round eight area residents testified against licensing of the reactor on grounds that there was no “knowledgeable method of evacuation” for residents near Three Mile Island, that rural residents could not be evacuated and that many of the residents had “not been informed as to dangers and hazards of radiological fallout.”

While these hearings were taking place, a controversy arose over the security of the island. Metropolitan Edison contended that any small group attempting to enter the island would be repelled.

In August 1977, to add to the woes of the nuclear plant’s management, there was a labor demonstration by about 100 workers at the entrance of the station.

MEMBERS OF Local 520 of the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union charged that a New Jersey Firm which was installing meters and gauges on Unit 2 had not hired local pipe fitters.

Then on Sept. 4, 1977, a fire in Unit 2 caused minor damage to scaffolding used in cleaning pipes. The fire was extinguished by the plant fire crew and did not affect Unit 1.

Early in 1978, there was a scare. Metropolitan Edison announced that increased concentrations of radioactivity were found in sediment in the Susquehanna River about a mile south of the island.

However, an official of the state’s Bureau of Radiological Health said that no health hazard to the public had been posed.

Fallout from an atmospheric weapons test conducted by China the preceding September and a small amount of legal discharge were responsible for the increased radioactivity, the bureau said.

On Jan. 16, 1978, about 30 “concerned citizens” met in the Middletown borough hall to hear a plan for the evacuation of the area surrounding Three Mile Island should it be necessary.

On Feb. 10, it was announced that the NRC had granted an operating license for Unit 2. In response to the commission’s announcement, John G. Herbein, vice president of Metropolitan Edison, said that with the license “we can begin fuel loading immediately and then proceed to an extensive series of tests which are required for initial operation of a reactor. After these tests, we will increase to 100 percent electrical output.”

But on March 1, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, at the request of two citizen’s groups, ordered activation of the new reactor temporarily halted.

Dr. Chauncey R. Kepford of State College, representing the Harrisburg Citizens for a Safe Environment and York Committee for a Safe Environment, in a brief charged that the NRC failed to notify the groups that a license had been granted to Unit 2, thereby forfeiting the groups’ right to challenge action through NRC administrative channels. It also was charged that the failure to notify was “deliberate and intentional.”

UNDER THE court order, Met Ed was allowed to continue testing of the unit but could not initiate a sustained nuclear reaction until further notice.

Seven days later, and by a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington rejected the request of Kepford for a permanent injunction against the NRC to halt the operation. Kepford had argued that seepage of radon 222 gases from “tailings” or waste left over from the mining and milling of uranium posed a health hazard. He contended that the NRC failed to consider adequately the hazard in its environmental impact statement on Unit 2.

Towards the end of March, Kepford and his group asked the Atomic Safety Licensing and Appeal Board to halt initial operation of Unit 2.

Kepford told the board that aircraft operations in the nuclear plant’s neighborhood pose an unknown threat, emergency evacuation plans are inadequate and “the largest single source of radioactive emission in the fuel cycle has been ignored by the NRC.”

However, within a week the board came back with an answer and that answer was a refusal to rule on the motion to suspend operations. Instead, the objection was sent to a NRC licensing board for “further proceedings.”

There were troubles, too, in getting the reactor to full operation. There was an unplanned generation stoppage April 23, 1978, although Unit 2 had become initially radioactive March 28. And then in July 1978, another challenge by foes of the reactor was turned down by the NRC appeal panel although it did decide to order further study of aircraft crash possibilities.

This decision on the part of NRC prompted a risk appeal from the safe environment group and a charge by Kepford that Unit 2 “is an accident just waiting to happen, and when it does, the glib assurances that the public health and safety are being protected will not suffice.”

There were some red faces on the island regarding its security last July, when Francis Mummert had to go searching for help after climbing a fence and not being noticed. He and his companions had coasted to the island in their disabled boat.

Sept. 19 saw the dedication ceremony for Unit 2 with a few protesters present.

But this did not end the controversy over the operation of the reactor. A third round of federal hearings to examine hazards posed by airline flights over Three Mile Island will be held Monday at the Federal Building.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Goldsboro: Tranquility and Anger

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Goldsboro: Tranquility and Anger
Author: Roger Quigley, Staff Writer

GOLDSBORO-Wednesday’s radiation leak and lack of warning brought angry reactions from many residents and officials of this area of York County, where the massive cooling towers of the Three Mile Island Nuclear generating station dominate the landscape.

But many others dismissed the whole incident as a minor mishap, saying it’s been blown out of proportion.

“I’m more worried,” said one, “about chuckholes.”

Bruce I. Smith Jr., chairman of the Newberry Twp. Board of Supervisors, called for the development of new, more comprehensive evacuation plans and lambasted Metropolitan Edison Co. for what he said was exposing residents to the “grim reality of a nuclear accident.”

Marvin Brothers, who is both a Newberry supervisor and Goldsboro’s fire chief, said he was unhappy over the four-hour delay in alerting emergency officials but not greatly distressed.

Hazardous materials on trains which pass through the borough “have me more scared than that place,” said Brothers.

In this river town, where low levels of radiation were found Wednesday morning, most residents were concerned that their first notice didn’t come until hours after the accident and then only though commercial radio stations.

BUT THE division in opinions on the severity of the accident and its effect on them was evident.

“I’m more worried about chuckholes, the condition of the railroad tracks over there and those jets that fly over town than I am about that,” said Bud King from the steps of his King’s Arms tavern as he pointed to the four mammoth cooling towers looming on the horizon between two rows of houses.

“I feel 100 percent sure about that,” he said again pointing in the direction of the nuclear plant.

“If it had been worse,” said Ann Hartman, of the time it took to make people aware of the accident, “they could have roped off the whole town and forgotten it.”

“That big thing over there never bothers me, but some people in town are scared to death over it,” said the 26-year old Goldsboro resident. “We’re pretty lucky this time; maybe we won’t be the next time.”

Newberry’s Smith, saying “it’s time for Metropolitan Edison to make more than promises” about the safety of its plant, called the company’s current evacuation plan for the township “ridiculous.” Smith said he would press for a “more comprehensive evacuation plan for this type of accident.”

HE SAID THE “only emergency procedure we have received was a one-page flyer (on evacuation procedures) that was distributed with tax notices.

“What happens after all 8500 township residents congregate at Red Land High School (the designated evacuation site for the township)?”

Goldsboro’s mayor, Kenneth E. Myers said he “wasn’t notified of the accident and I don’t know how many other municipal officials were. I think they should have notified the officials in the immediate area.”

Myers said this isn’t the “first time that it’s happened, though. Before there have been leaks and (in some cases) it was more than a week until we found out about them.”

Fairview Twp. Officials say they never were notified of the accident or the radiation leak, apparently because they’re just beyond the 10-mile notification radius Three Mile Island officials observe when there’s a problem at the facility.

“I would say definitely that we should be notified,” said township Fire Chief Kenneth Rodgers.
William R. Collins, township police chief, said although he wasn’t notified he understands “York County Control is supposed to have some kind of plan” for dealing with incidents at Three Mile Island.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Area Officials Concerned Over ‘Proper’ Notification

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Area Officials Concerned Over ‘Proper’ Notification
Author: Unknown

CARLISLE-Cumberland County Commissioner Jacob A. Myers Wednesday called for an investigation into whether “proper timely notice” was given to county officials after the accident at the Three Mile Island Generating Station.

In Dauphin County, Commission Chairman John E. Minnich said he would not rule out the possibility of calling for an investigation, but added he first plans to talk to Kevin J. Molloy, director of the county’s Emergency Preparedness office.

Minnich did say that, “What has happened here has somewhat destroyed the credibility of nuclear proponents” who say an accident could not happen.

Two state lawmakers, Rep. Stephen R. Reed, D-Harrisburg, and Rep. Eugene Geesy, R-York, Wednesday sponsored a House resolution calling for the Mines and Emergency Management Committee to investigate the accident.

Rep. James Wright, committee chairman, agreed to the investigation at the legislator’s request. The first public meeting will be Monday at 1 p.m. in the Main Capitol Building.

Minnich said he first learned of the incident Wednesday morning from Molloy. He said he did not “get the feelings from Kevin that there was a problem on notification. Everything seemed to be in order.”

Minnich said he would not say whether the county received sufficient notice of the accident until he talks to Molloy” to see if there were some shortcomings.”

Minnich and fellow Commissioners Earl R. Reider and Earl B. Hoffman are to be in New York City Thursday to meet with Moody’s Investors Service to discuss the county’s credit rating. Minnich said he will talk to Molloy Friday.

Reed, who chairs the Disaster Services committee at Harrisburg River Rescue Inc., said the accident “proved the state was unprepared to deal with any major nuclear incident.” He announced a push for legislation he introduced March 7 related to nuclear safety.

Cumberland County’s Emergency Preparedness Office was given verbal notification by a state Civil Defense official at 8:30 a.m. and a written statement was issued at 3:30 p.m. by Oran Henderson, state Civil Defense director.

Molly said his office received verbal notification of the accident at 7:09 a.m. and was advised that it did not affect the public.

The accident, resulting in a leak of radiation into the atmosphere, occurred at 4 a.m., according to officials for Metropolitan Edison, one of the consortiums of utilities which operate the nuclear generating plant.

“From the emergency management point of view,” Myers said, “I want our emergency management personnel to determine whether proper timely notice was given to emergency personnel by the plant to allow time for necessary precautions.”

Myers said he could not understand the approach-not wanting to alarm the public-taken by officials in charge of releasing information. But he noted that there is a fine line between unnecessarily alarming people and not providing sufficient notice to emergency personnel to accommodate evacuations or other safety precautions.

He said he will ask Thomas Blosser, county emergency preparedness director, to conduct an in-depth study and pursue with state officials the question of the apparent discrepancy in time between the accident and the notification.

Part of the problem, Myers said, is the public’s general lack of knowledge about nuclear plants. “What we know least about is always more of concern.”

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Royalton Never Got the Word

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Royalton Never Got the Word
Author: Jon Harwood, Staff Writer

The Dauphin County borough of Royalton, situated less than three miles from the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, never received official notification of Wednesday’s radiation leak at the plant, borough officials said.

Mayor Charles Erisman was notified of the incident by a borough employee and a Patriot reporter after 11 a.m. Wednesday, seven hours after the incident and three hours after a countywide evacuation alert had been cancelled.

“I don’t see why they overlooked something like that when we’re closer (to the plant) than Middletown,” said Erisman, who is responsible for coordinating the borough’s Civil Defense efforts. Middletown borough, situated immediately north of Royalton, was informed of problems at the plant shortly after 7:30 a.m., officials said.

“The breeze (carrying radiation) could just as easily blow in our direction,” he said.

Erisman said he heard on the police radio that streets were being barricaded because of congested traffic near the plant, but “that’s the only thing we got.” He added that he visited the plant during the day and discussed the situation with state police officials.

DAUPHIN COUNTY Civil Defense Director Kevin J. Molloy said he was under the impression that Middletown had informed Royalton officials of the situation at the plant.

“Yes, but they didn’t,” Erisman said.

“We’ll have to look into that,” Molloy said.

Another county borough that claimed to have received late notification was Highspire. Acting Police Chief William R. Youtz said that the county communication center called him between 9:30 and 10 a.m. “to tell us everything was OK.”

Youtz said he received no notification before the call but had heard about the situation on the radio. “You’d think they would have contacted us,” he said.

In Middletown, Mayor Robert G. Reid directed his complaints about lack of information to Metropolitan Edison Co., which runs the generating station.

“What bothers me is that from 7:30 to 11 a.m., we did not know anything,” Reid said. “We’re a little upset, and I am particularly, that not enough news comes from Met Ed itself to the borough.”

“If there had to be a mass evacuation, I’m sure Met Ed would have called,” Reid said, but “I think someone should have called and said there was no need to evacuate anyone.”

BOROUGH OFFICIALS said that the county notified them of an “on-site emergency” at the plant about 7:30 a.m. The borough received no further information until a Met Ed spokesman contacted the borough at 11 a.m., Reid said.

Reid said the spokesman told him there was “no detection of radioactive fallout in the air” and that there had been no injuries at the plant.

Later in the day, however, the Met Ed spokesman, located in Reading, called again to say that some radiation had leaked from the plant but that officials had not been made aware of the leak, Reid said.

Before the Met Ed call, “we didn’t have enough information in the borough that we could tell people that there was no danger,” Reid said.

“We’re in the dark,” Police Chief George M. Miller said. “We don’t know what the hell is going on up there.”

Ironically, Reid added, he has been attempting for two months to develop an emergency plan for the borough and surrounding areas. He said the plan has not been completed.

Middletown has several radiation detection devices and officials monitored radiation levels in the borough throughout the day, Reid said.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): He Favors N-Power Despite Accident

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: He Favors N-Power Despite Accident
Author: Associated Press

DALLAS (AP)-Energy Secretary James Schlesinger said Wednesday that he would look into the accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant, and added that he felt the nuclear power industry had a good safety record.

“Over the years there have been no fatalities resulting from the use of nuclear power,” Schlesinger told reporters after he spoke to the National Association of Broadcasters convention. “Nothing is riskless, but when one weighs the risks overall, the advantages of nuclear power exceed the risks.”

Schlesinger also repeated his view that nuclear power is vital to the U.S. economy.

“Nuclear power continues to be an essential element in the nation’s energy mix. Failure to do that will mean growing dependence on foreign sources of supply and ultimately shortages that will affect the American economy,” he said.

The Patriot (Harrisburg, PA): Nuclear Leak Explanation Demanded

Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 29, 1979
Title: Nuclear Leak Explanation Demanded
Author: Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP)-Members of the Congress, expressing shock and alarm over Wednesday’s accident at Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, demanded a full explanation from government regulators.

President Jimmy Carter was informed of the accident but had no immediate comment. Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger said the accident did not shake his faith in atomic power.

However, Rep. Allen E. Ertel, D-Pa., in whose district the plant is located, disclosed that he had written the Nuclear Regulatory Commission three weeks ago complaining about safety conditions at Three Mile Island.

Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., asserted that the nuclear power industry “has had a winter and a spring of problems” and said lawmakers should demand more information on the situation.

Many congressmen already were questioning the closing of five eastern United States nuclear power plants when, company officials said, a valve blew out a water pump at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg. Government officials said the accident filled the nuclear reactor containment shell with radiation and released some radioactive material into the atmosphere.

HOWEVER, Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., said he had been informed by NRC officials that human error appeared to have been a factor in the accident.

“I am informed that the emergency core cooling system was turned off prematurely-resulting in a partial blockage of water needed to cool the one nuclear core and keep it under control,” Hart said.

Schlesinger was questioned about the accident while in Dallas attending a convention of the National Association of Broadcasters.

The energy secretary said he was concerned but emphasized his belief that the benefits of atomic energy outweigh the risks.

“Nothing is riskless, but when one weighs the risks overall, the advantages of nuclear power exceed the risks,” said Schlesinger, a onetime chairman of the now-defunct Atomic Energy Commission.

An inquiry at the Office of Emergency Preparedness Wednesday night about the nuclear accident in Pennsylvania was taken by an operator who said “the office is closed for the day. This is the answering service.”

Ertel said plant employees told him late Wednesday that some radiation had “come out of the ventilating system. It vented to the outside. It was a problem but they got it closed off.”

“They still have a hot system” Ertel added. “The whole thing is hot at this time. The company told me it is more of a problem than what they initially told me-and that they did have contaminated water outside the container.”

ERTEL SAID he recently questioned safety conditions at Three Mile Island-mainly the lack of what he considered adequate protection against fire.

The Three Mile Island facility is now operated by a consortium of utility companies known as General Public Utilities.

Sen. Richard Schweiker, R-Pa., said, “I’m deeply concerned about this incident…many questions remain unanswered and I intend to get answers. My greatest concern is protecting the health of residents and workers.”

Udall, chairman of the House Interior Committee which oversees nuclear power issues, said he expected a full briefing on the situation Thursday from top NRC officials.

“I’m waiting to get the facts, to learn what happened and what can be done about it,” he said.

Rep. Eugene V. Atkinson, D-Pa., introduced legislation Wednesday aimed at prohibiting power companies from passing on to consumers the added cost of electricity when nuclear reactors are shut down by the government-as was the case recently with five reactors.

Atkinson had been critical of the NRC decision to shut down two units in Virginia, and single units in Pennsylvania, New York state and Maine. The order, which did not affect Three Mile Island, was prompted by the NRC’s concern over the ability of nuclear power plants’ cooling systems to function during an earthquake.

The congressman noted that under a 1975 law, the federal government already is liable for up to $560 million for reimbursing damage resulting from a major accident at a nuclear power plant.

Hart, chairman of a Senate subcommittee on nuclear power, and members of his staff were briefed by Lee Gossick, executive director of NRC operations and by other NRC officials.

“I am disturbed this accident has taken place at a brand new nuclear power plant and that some human error appears to have been involved in responding to the emergency situation,” Hart said.

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