Newspaper: The Evening Sentinel

Date: April 5, 1979

Title: Nuclear crisis-Carter Fails Again

Author: Nicholas Von Hoffman


Apparently there has been a brain meltdown at the White House or perhaps a hydrogen bubble in the gut.

However it came about, Dr. Atomic, the man who ran for the presidency as, among other things, an accomplished nuclear engineer, has never looked worse than in his handling of the accident, or as the techno-bureaucrats like to call it "the event" or "the continuous incident" at Three Mile Island.

Here is the Environmental Protection Agency, supposedly an organ of government directly responsible to Mr. Carter, conceding it had let days go by without measuring the radiation falling on the citizens of Pennsylvania because, Lord save us, the matter would not fall in its jurisdiction until a radioactive cloud was obliging enough to cross a state line.

Beyond that, we have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept in the dark by Metropolitan Edison, the utility company that owns this plant, while it executes procedures of highly debatable safety to shut the plant down and which result in the emission of an apparently unknown quantity of radiation into the air and the flow of the Susquehanna River.

Moreover, it turns out that there may even have been an explosion in the plant which the commission was only belatedly informed of.

IN THE FACE of all this and much more, we find Dr. Atomic toddling off for a political fund raiser in Wisconsin where, you may presume, he indulged himself in his routine prattle about leadership.

If Mr. Carter would talk about leadership less and exercise it more, we might all be able to sleep without the fear that, as we snooze, a deadly radioactive iodine cloud will steal over us.
A president like Theodore Roosevelt, who never had to yak-yak about leadership, would have seized the plant and then said, as he did about the Panama Canal, that Congress could argue about the legalities later.

The Governor of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, has acquitted himself with distinction.
Richard Thornburgh's problem has been to find out which of the technicians in this disgraceful babble of contradiction, omission and artful distortion he should listen to.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania doesn't have legions of high energy physicists, engineers, and atomic scientists; it doesn't have the labs, the equipment or the high-tech backup to deal with a problem like this.

Only the federal government does, but instead of moving in to take charge so that we can be assured the matter is being handled by rational, competent and reasonably disinterested public servants, Dr. Atomic spent the first days of what millions of us consider a major crisis indicating it really isn't his responsibility.

THE NET RESULT was to give the impression that the future of the nuclear generating industry, whose stocks on Wall Street have already undergone a China Syndrome of their own, is of greater concern than the public health and safety.

Industry spokesmen have done all in their power to reinforce the idea they put bucks before people with a public relations patter that sounded like they were telling us:

"So what's a little radiation? You get more radiation sunbathing in your backyard than on Three Mile Island."

"And talk about danger, look at what happened to Lee Trevino the golf pro. Remember how he got hit by lightning out on the golf course? Now, there's a guy in danger. In Harrisburg, they'll all live to be 100.

"CANCER, WHAT'S cancer? Look at how many die of it anyway. You're more likely to die from eating the lousy bacon with the additives in it."

"Don't talk to me about cancer. If you get it how do they cure you? With radiation, dummy, which you can't have without electricity. The atom gives cancer and takes it away, so turn on the air conditioner, and use up a few kilowatts."

The upshot is there is no reason to be upset. Older people will die of diabetes or a stroke before the radiation introduced ca [illegible] gets them and it's the older folks who [illegible] the majority of the voting.

There are other blessings to be counted. We're fortunate it happened in Pennsylvania. In case Three Mile Island goes up in the big mushroom, people can climb down into the abandoned coal mines to begin building a new mole society.

And what a boon to the Keystone State's highway safety program-night time drivers will soon be able to see pedestrians better because they'll glow in the dark.

The rest of us can read the part in Jimmy Carter's autobiography where Dr. Atomic went down into the guts of a reactor and got himself a big overdose while fixing it and then we can reflect that the difference between that act of bravery and Jimmy Carter's current waffle is the difference between physical courage and civic cowardice.