Newspaper: The Evening Sentinel
Date: April 2, 1979
Title: Carter Visit has Calming Effect
Author: Jim Kershner, the Evening Sentinel
A “stable” situation at Three Mile Island and a visit by President Jimmy Carter calmed the fears of many central Pennsylvanians Sunday.
Harold Denton of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told reporters Sunday afternoon the uranium fuel cells in the core of the reactor were cooling down to below 500 degrees and that he is convinced the size of the potentially dangerous hydrogen and oxygen bubble in the reactor is decreasing-both hopeful signs.
President Carter, after personally inspecting the crippled nuclear reactor, assured area residents “the reactor core is indeed stable.”
In a brief statement in Middletown Borough Hall, the president confirmed the possibility of an evacuation. But he added that if an evacuation is ordered, “it will not indicate that danger is high.”
He said any evacuation order would come from Gov. Dick Thornburgh and urged that any such order “be carried out calmly.”
ALTHOUGH STATE and county officials readied plans to evacuate areas within 20 miles of the plant, no evacuation has been ordered.
President Carter made it clear that Denton was in charge of the situation at the reactor and said Denton “has the confidence of the American people.”
The president did not answer questions at a Middletown press conference, but left Denton to field reporters’ inquiries.
Denton said if the size of the gas bubble in the pressurizer is successfully reduced by present methods it is possible the plant can be brought to a “cold shutdown” status without evacuating any people.
These methods include the use of hydrogen recombiners, machines that combine potentially explosive hydrogen and oxygen gases into water. He said the recombiners were to begin operation late Sunday night.
He said the scientists would decide “within the next few days” whether any new course of action would be required to end the crisis.
HE SAID they had “five or six days” before the gas in the pressurizer became capable of causing an explosion.
He made it clear the NRC was keeping a close rein on the plant’s operator, Metropolitan Edison Co.
“We have an unequivocal understanding that we will concur in advance,” before Met-Ed takes any new actions, he said.
The technical explanations from Denton indicated the situation was stable, but the crisis was far from over.
But neighbors of the nuclear power plant appeared to have been calmed considerably by the presidential visit.
“I guess if it’s safe enough for him, it’s safe enough for us,” said Steelton resident John Zales after catching a glimpse of the president entering Middletown Borough Hall.
“We were on pins and needles,” said his wife, Mary.
MIDDLETOWN MAYOR Robert Reid said after Carter left, “I’m more confident today than I was yesterday. I didn’t put too much faith in what the (Met-Ed) company said.”
While the president was talking to reporters Sunday afternoon, First Lady Rosalyn Carter stepped out of her limousine to greet residents gathered around the borough hall.
At the reactor Sunday afternoon plant workers leaving the site were pleased by the president’s visit.
One nuclear engineer from Babcock and Wilcox, the firm that manufactured the plant, said the president shook his hand and said “good luck.”
He said the president spent about 30 minutes in the plant’s control room getting briefed by Denton.
Carter, a former Navy nuclear engineer, was quite knowledgeable about the operation, he said.
A procession of trucks brought special equipment, lead bricks and loads of stone onto the island, while 12 trailers were brought to the observation center on the shore to set up a command post for the NRC.
MEANWHILE, AT Hershey about 150 evacuees spent their second night in the Hersheypark Arena.
Pregnant women and pre-school children were asked Friday to leave the area within five miles of the plant. Many were joined at the evacuation shelter by members of their families.
Gathered around television sets to watch the news Sunday evening, the evacuees seemed pleased that the president came.
“I think it’s a good thing he came,” said Richard Thomas of Lower Swatara Township, “it shows he cares.”
He said the food and care at the center have been excellent.
A Red Cross spokesman said a representative from American Nuclear Insurance Co. made immediate payment to some families Saturday, enabling them to leave the center for motels or hotels, but that they were replaced by new arrivals at the arena.
He said if a 10-mile radius evacuation were announced, the center would be evacuated although “whether or not Hershey is within 10 miles of the plant depends on where you are along the three-mile-long island you start your circle.”