Newspaper: The Patriot
Date: March 30, 1979
Title: Radiation: Who Said What
Author: Associated Press

Who knew there was a leak? When did they tell?

The answers about radiation after Wednesday’s accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg were slow to come and confusing. They were still confusing on Thursday.

The first word, at 9 a.m.: no leak.

An hour later: Yes, there was a little leak.

Twenty-four hours later: “We concede that it’s not just a little thing,” said Don Curry, a spokesman for Metropolitan Edison Co., which owns and operates the plant.

Utility officials and government authorities didn’t waver from assertions that there was no danger to public health or safety. Little else remained constant as the story unfolded: (Times are approximate.)

9 a.m.-James Cox of the Pennsylvania State Police: A “general emergency” has been declared by plant officials. “Whatever it is, it is contained in the second (nuclear) unit. They said there is no radiation leak.”

Frank Ingrahm, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington: There has been “some kind of accident” at the plant. Authorities in Harrisburg say a water pump used to cool the nuclear reactor broke down at 4 a.m. Judy Botvin, a plant spokeswoman, says she does not know whether radiation leaked.

10 a.m. -Some radiated steam escaped, but the radiation outside the plant is not dangerous. Blaine Fabian of Metropolitan Edison: “At this time, there have been no recordings of any significant levels of radiation and none are expected outside the plant.

11 a.m.-Karl Abraham, public affairs officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Philadelphia: “What they’re seeing is extremely low radiation. It appears to be confined to inside the containment structure, the steel reinforced concrete dome around the reactor. They have not detected any significant radiation off site.”

Bill Dornsife, nuclear engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources: “There was very little wind this morning so the radioactivity shouldn’t have gone very far. What small release there was will be confined to the local vicinity.” The company did not contact the state Civil Defense until 7 a.m., three hours after the accident. “We will investigate whether there was any lag.”

Dave Klucsik, a spokesman for Metropolitan Edison: “There is no danger of a meltdown. We are not in a ‘China Syndrome’ situation.” He refers to a current movie about the cover-up of a nuclear catastrophe involving the failure of a cooling mechanism at a nuclear plant.

Noon-Lt. Gov. William Scranton III: “There was a small release of radiation to the environment…No increase in normal radiation levels outside the plant.”

Metropolitan Edison President Walter Creitz: “Immediately when it happened we sent teams out…We could detect nothing above natural background radiation. There was a small release, but you know, this couldn’t detect it…the exact amount. I’ll be honest about it, I don’t know.”

1 p.m.-Dornsife: The radiation leak is equivalent to one milirem per hour. (Rems and milirems are used to measure the radiation absorption by the body; on average, Americans are exposed to about 100 or 120 milirems per year.) “Nobody was in the containment shell” when the steam escaped.

2 p.m.-Jack Herbein, vice president for generation at Metropolitan Edison: “Some (workers) may have been contaminated. It’s nothing we can’t take care of.”

3 p.m.-Creitz: Monitoring at the edge of the 200-acre plant site show an increase of 2 to 3 milirems per hour in radiation levels.

4 p.m.-Scranton: “This situation is more complex than the company first led us to believe. Metropolitan Edison has given you and us conflicting information.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission: The accident sent radiation through the plant’s 4-foot thick walls and sent low-level radiation as far as a mile from the plant site.

Joe Fouchard of the NRC: “There’s a hell of a lot of radiation in the reactor building.” Radiation from steam alone would not penetrate the steel-lined walls. The only likely source of such high-level radiation appears to be some portion of the reactor’s fuel. It is not known whether part of the fuel might have melted, evaporated or blown out of the core before the reaction was stopped.

Leonard Matt, public relations consultant for a group representing General Public Utilities, the consortium of which Metropolitan Edison is a part: “Some damage to the cladding (the insulation around the fuel) may have occurred.”

Richard Esteves, director of corporate communications for General Public Utilities: “The story has changed throughout the day.”

5 p.m.-Herbein: “I’m sure some of (the workers) got exposure, but positively none were over-exposed.”
Fouchard: “We believe there is direct radiation from radioactive material within the reactor building.”

6 p.m.-The government says the accident apparently damaged the reactor core and may have let radioactive material into the atmosphere. Edison Case, deputy director of reactor regulation for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Radiation levels inside the building registered 1,000 times normal.

Scranton: Steam containing radioactive material was released into the air for over two hours to “relieve potentially dangerous pressure” in the reactor.

Dornsife: “Something caused the core to overheat.”

7 p.m.-Case: Radioactivity inside the reactor dome was measured at a level of 6,000 Roentgens. The normal level in the dome is 5 to 6 Roentgens. “A damn lot of radiation.”

General Public Utilities: There was “some low level release of radioactive gas beyond the side boundary…Despite this release, the company does not believe the level constitutes a danger to the health and safety of the public.”

Officials in Washington: Available readings indicate there no hazard outside the plant.

Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., chairman of the Senate subcommittee on nuclear regulation: “I am informed that the emergency core cooling system was turned off prematurely-resulting in a partial blockage of water needed to cool the nuclear core and keep it under control. Some human error seems to have been involved in responding…”

10 p.m.-George Troffer, manager of generation quality assurance for Metropolitan Edison: He disputes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission claim that radiation inside the reactor dome was 1,000 times normal. The level was perhaps 10 times normal, he says.

Government investigators: Radiation could be measured 16 miles away from the plant, but the reactor core was not damaged.

Charles Gallina, an NRC investigator: Radiation was emitted from contaminated water in an auxiliary building when officials intentionally sent steam into the air, not knowing it was contaminated. “We have a serious contamination problem on site. You might say…it’s one of the more serious…Nothing critical failed, but it’s a dirty problem.”

Bob Fries, of the Department of Energy: Officials measured up to 70 milirems at the plant site-about two and one-thirds times the amount of a chest X-ray.

James Higgins, an NRC reactor inspector: “They (radiation levels) are high, but not yet crucial. It was not close to a catastrophe.”

Midnight-Another leak may have developed in the ½ inch thick rods containing uranium pellets to power the reactor.

7 a.m. Thursday-Walter Creitz: The plant is shut down safely and the level of radiation released “would not endanger or injure any people.” He does not know precisely what caused the accident. “Anything that man makes will not operate perfectly. A piece of equipment failed.”

9 a.m.-Radiation leaks continue. Don Curry, a Metropolitan Edison spokesman: “The vapor that is now going into the atmosphere…is only mildly radioactive within accepted limits.” The vapor is from a sump pump, designed to remove water after it has cooled the reactor. “We concede that it’s not just a little thing.”

11 a.m.-Herbein: Of the 100 to 120 employees in the reactor area at the time of the accident, only 10 to 15 had to be decontaminated with showers. “There is presently no danger to the public health or safety. We didn’t injure anybody, we didn’t over-expose anybody, and we certainly didn’t kill anybody.”