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.