Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30th, 1979
Title: 4 Counties Still on Alert
Author: Richard Roberts, Staff Writer
Dauphin, Cumberland, York and Lancaster counties remained on standby evacuation alert Thursday as radioactive materials continued to be released from Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station on an indefinite basis, state officials said.
Meanwhile, John G. Herbein, vice president-generation for Metropolitan Edison Co. of Reading, operator of the plant told a press conference in Hershey on Thursday that another accident “could conceivably happen again.”
“All plans and procedures are based on (the possibility of) it happening again,” he said. “We’re capable of handling something more serious.”
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency said low-level radioactive material was being emitted from the plant at a rate of 1 millirem per hour, the same rate as it was being released Wednesday.
“The reactor has not reached cool-down yet,” said Jim Cassidy, an agency spokesman. “From Thursday it will take two to three days to clean up the plant to the point that the initial problem has been solved.
“We don’t know if they’ll continue to emit radiation at the same rate during that time.”
Emergency officials in the four counties are receiving updated radiation-level reports on a 24-hour basis during the stand-by alert, Cassidy said. “We want to be prepared, if necessary to carry out an evacuation.”
County emergency preparedness offices in the four counties are being staffed around the clock with special personnel who would facilitate an evacuation, if needed, he said.
Cassidy said: “Evacuation is unlikely and is almost out of the realm of probability. There would have to be a drastic change in the amount of radiation being emitted for that situation to change.
“The situation as it stands is stable. The facility is continuing to vent. They’re working toward a cool-down on a continuous basis.”
State Health Secretary Dr. Gordon MacLeod said the radioactivity does not pose a health threat.
“The (State Department of Environmental Resources’) Bureau of Radiological Health has been monitoring the radioactivity and assures us that it is well within tolerable levels,” MacLeod said. “I see no reason for a citizen to have any health concern in regard to the Three Mile Island accident.”
Cassidy said the area of radiation is “widespread and dispersing.” He said there have been no reports on the effect of rainfall early Thursday morning. “We’re not concerned at this time about how whether patterns are affecting the radiation,” he said.
The National Weather Service here said winds early Thursday were blowing out of the southeast at less than 10 miles an hour. After noon, winds became easterly at six to seven miles an hour. After 6 p.m., winds were southeasterly at about five miles per hour.
A Met Ed spokesman said the temperature and pressure inside the Unit 2 reactor containment building were dropping Thursday. Pressure had dropped from a maximum of 2,350 pound per square inch during the height of the accident to 700 psi on Thursday.
“This is considered normal, good and safe,” he said.
The temperature in Unit 2 was at 780 degrees Fahrenheit, the spokesman said. Normal operating temperature is 600 degrees.
The spokesman said one reactor coolant pump was operating normally and steam was being “dumped” to a mean reactor condenser as part of a process of cooling down the reactor core.
“The only leakage into the atmosphere at present is vapor coming from water evaporating from sump pumps in the auxiliary building,” he said. “It is only mildly radioactive, within accepted limits, and this radioactivity is constantly going down.”
The spokesman said three are no “verified figures” of radiation overexposure to Three Mile Island employees. “There was and is no exposure in any gross amount to the workers,” he said.
Special cleanup crews have begun working in the auxiliary building that was contaminated by radioactive material, the spokesman said. No employees have entered the reactor building to examine it or begin decontamination, he said.
At Capital City Airport, a U.S. Energy Department team flew eight helicopter aerial sampling missions, according to Herbert E. Hahn, site manager for the Energy Department’s Eastern Measurement Office.
During the hour-long flights, data on radiation levels is gathered by special monitoring equipment and stored in a computer on board the craft, Hahn said. The information is then fed into another computer on the ground that was transported to the airport in a van from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
Hahn would not release the results of the surveys. He said the information is being transmitted by telephone to a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission Incident Management Center at King of Prussia, where the data is being assessed.
Herbein, speaking at the Hershey Motor Lodge, said that the core of the Unit 2 reactor and the fuel rods “may have been damaged” during the accident.
He estimated that one or two of Unit 2’s reactor and fuel rods were damaged during the accident.
As much as 15,000 gallons of radioactive water spilled out of the Unit 2 reactor into an auxiliary building during the accident, he said, adding that none of the contaminated water drained into the Susquehanna River. The spill occurred in a sequence of events after a “scram,” or emergency shutdown of the reactor.
A 350,000-gallon holding tank overflowed, spilling 100,000 gallons of water onto the floor of the reactor containment building, he said. A sump pump in the reactor building transferred some of the superheated radioactive water into the auxiliary building, where the radioactive vapors were vented, he said.
Emergency reactor core safety systems “functioned as they were supposed to,” but some pumps and valves failed, Herbein said. Met Ed “has no major problems” with the failure of “a few pumps and valves” because it can rely on backup systems “with hundreds of pumps and thousands of valves.”
Asked whether a Met Ed employee in Unit 2’s control room had mistakenly shut down an emergency reactor core cooling system during the course of the accident, Herbein said: “I don’t think we can say at this point.” But he said he had “not ruled out human error.”
Herbein said he believes no one near the plant received more than a 10-millirem exposure of radiation in a 24-hour period.
“The average U.S. citizen is exposed to 200 millirems a year from the sun, the beer he drinks and TV,” he said. “If there was any exposure at all off-site, it was not more than an additional one millirem per hour.”