Newspaper: The Evening Sentinel

Date: April 4, 1979

Title: Thousands Returning as Crisis Winds Down

Author: Dennis O'Brien and Jim Kershner, The Evening Sentinel with Wire Reports


MIDDLETOWN-Tens of thousands of central Pennsylvanians returned today to their homes near Three Mile Island.

Civil defense authorities said at least 68,000 persons poured back into the area following Tuesday's news that the crisis had diminished.

Plans were underway to bring the unstable nuclear reactor to a safe, cold shutdown. Radiation continues to leak from the plant in small amounts.

"People are coming back in droves. People who went to Maryland and other places called us and said they're comin' on back," said Joseph Rulh, spokesman for Office of Emergency Management of York County, where an estimated 80,000 people evacuated.

About 200,000 people in a four-corner vicinity within a 20-mile radius of Three Mile Island left beginning last Wednesday when the accident occurred.

The Pennsylvania Education Department said 34,000 students in six school districts and part of a seventh returned to classes today outside a five mile radius of the plant. About 26,000 students remain home.

At the plant site engineers prepared cautiously to shut down the crippled nuclear furnace.
"We have to heave a collective sigh of relief," said Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

Civil defense authorities kept precautionary evacuation plans on a standby status, but Thornburgh indicated he thought such a mass exodus would no longer be necessary.

"I'm glad we didn't have to test it out," the governor said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

MEANWHILE, attention has shifted from the crippled Three Mile Island reactor to the seven similar nuclear power plants constructed by the same firm.

NRC staff members were to meet early this afternoon with the NRC's commissioners in Washington to discuss the possibility of shutting down the other plants.

NRC officials Tuesday circulated a bulletin to the seven plants giving them 10 days to show why a similar accident couldn't occur at their facilities.

As the situation at Three Mile Island continues to improve, nuclear plant workers are considering speeding up the cooling process.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials were expected to decide soon whether to enter "phase two" of the reactor cool down.

Phase one, which is currently in effect, cools the reactor by circulating high pressure steam through the reactor into the steam generator.

Phase two involves circulating low pressure water through the reactor to coolers in the auxiliary building.

THE TRANSITION in cooling processes must be made after workers install shields in the auxiliary building and must be conducted "as gently as possible" according to one NRC official.
The primary danger to shifting to phase two is further damage to the crippled reactor.

The core is basically cooled down as much as it can possibly be under phase one, the official said, and the temperature of the reactor core has remained steady.

Gov. Thornburgh Friday ordered that all pregnant women and preschool children living within five miles of the plant leave the area after NRC officials learned of a hydrogen explosion that formed a hazardous radioactive bubble inside the reactor.

But the mood in Middletown was calmer Wednesday following the announcement that the bubble-considered to be a potentially lethal block to cooling the reactor-had been eliminated "for all practical purposes."

According to Harold Denton, who is heading the NRC's task force on the Three Mile Island situation, the bubble, which at one time could have caused an explosion inside the reactor, is no longer being considered a significant problem in getting reacing a shut down stage.

"THERES PROBABLY still some small bubbles in the containment, but they're not like the type (that was) up at the top of the dome," Denton said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

According to Denton, small amounts of radioactive iodine have been found in milk samples by U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors. But the amounts are too small at this point to be considered significant, he said.

Denton called the iodine levels "very low" and said they within limits the federal government believes are safe.