Newspaper: The Evening Sentinel

Date: April 3, 1979

Title: 3 Mile Island Optimism Grows

Author: United Press International


HARRISBURG (UPI)-Federal officials today cautiously expressed hope that the worst is over in the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis but said the reactor's fuel core appeared so badly damaged it may have to be scrapped.

Evacuation plans remained ready if necessary.

Civil defense officials said there were indications that some of the 200,000 people who left the four county area around the plant are beginning to return home. Area schools remained closed but many planned to open Wednesday.

Pregnant women and young children were still advised to stay out of an area within five miles of the reactor.

"I FEEL PRETTY good right now," said Robert Reid, the mayor of Middletown, three miles from the Susquehanna River power plant. "I feel confident things are shaping up but I don't think we're out of the woods yet.

"The people in town are still a little jumpy. They feel as though they're almost over the hump going down the other side but they know there's still a problem."

The town's entire 18-man police force, which had been on double shifts of 16-hour days, went back to normal eight-hour shifts today and police chief George Miller said the town was "a lot calmer now than it was."

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said preliminary indications suggest most-and probably all-of the 3,600 metal-covered uranium fuel rods that make up the core were irreparably damaged in the accident that launched the nation's worst nuclear power emergency last week.

NORMALLY, ONE official said, only one-third of a reactor's core would have to be replaced each year to add new fuel. But he said at Three Mile Island, the intense heat from the accident appears to have knocked out the entire core.

"The core appears to be damaged to the point it would not be re-useable," the official said.

Still ahead were efforts to bring the crippled reactor to a safe, cold shutdown condition. Because risks remained, state civil defense officials said evacuation plans were ready if necessary.

"We're still in a holding position ready to implement evacuation plans if necessary," a spokesman said.

Les Jackson, of the York County civil defense office, said about 35 percent of 38,000 people within 10 miles of the plant in his county had left.

"From some of the calls we are getting, it seems some of the people are coming back. We have advised those in a five mile area to stay away."

Officials in Lancaster and Dauphin counties also reported inquiries about returning home. About 150 people remained in the only official evacuation center still open, Hershey Park.

NRC teams have gradually raised their estimate of core damage as the full dimensions of the Three Mile Island incident unfolded.

The first estimates said only 1 percent of the core was badly damaged, while estimates Friday said 25 to 50 percent of the core had been knocked out.

AT first officials said some of the fuel rods might have melted. But new analysis led officials to believe the rods might only have split and twisted.

After more than five days on the defensive, engineers said they finally have taken the offensive in subduing the reactor.