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.”