Newspaper: The Sentinel

Date: April 7,1979

Article: 3-Mile crisis clouds future of nuclear uses: Thornburgh

Author: United Press International


HARRISBURG, Pa (UPI) - With the crisis ebbing at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, Gov. Dick Thornburgh says he had "deep and serious" doubts about the future of atomic power in Pennsylvania.

The governor said in an address Friday night that the remainder of his term in office will be dedicated to making sure that an accident such as the one that teetered on catastrophe at Three Mile Island "must not happen again."

"Like most of you, I always looked upon nuclear power as one of many ways to conserve and expand energy resources here in Pennsylvania," he said.

"Like most of you, I always tempered my hopes with an obvious concern about the safety of this awesome power we have placed within our communities.

"Like most of you, I now have doubts - deep and serious doubts - about opening the plant on Three Mile Island again, about expanding nuclear power in Pennsylvania and about assuming that we can't go back to safer things."

ENGINEERS, meanwhile, continued the slow process aimed at bringing the reactor past the danger point. Final, cold shutdown of the reactor was expected late next week.

One of two pumps circulating water in the reactor pressure vessel failed Friday but operators quickly turned on one of three backup pumps and the incident caused additional harm to the uranium fuel core.

Specialists at the plant on an island in the Susquehanna River have activated equipment to slow the leakage of radiation from the plant. But Thornburgh's office said the governor was still advising pregnant women and young children to stay out of a five-mile radius around the plant. The unborn and pre-school children are most vulnerable to radiation exposure.

THE GOVERNOR said he soon hoped to be able to tell pregnant women and young children that it is safe for them to go home.

"I shall treasure that moment for as long as I live," he said. "For I believe it will mark the end of the most dangerous days of decision any governor has had to face in this century."

At the plant, engineers Friday activated a gas removal system aimed at significantly reducing the amount of radiation escaping into the environment.

When the system first was turned on, some radiation escaped and made its way out of the plant. That leakage was eliminated later and the operation went as planned.

Although reactor conditions were reported stable, a mid-day blast of steam from the second, non-operating unit at the plant startled observers. The NRC assured area resident that the steam came from an oil-fired burner and was not radioactive.

In an indication of how things were going, the NRC's chief on the scene, Harold Denton, announced at a late afternoon news conference Friday that emergency crews were cutting back on their coverage in the control room. Between midnight and 6 a.m, only a skeleton crew would watch the instruments, monitoring the crippled reactor.

He also said the plant resumed dumping mildly radioactive waste water into the Susquehanna River.

In Washingoton, the White House sought to assure consumers food from the area is safe.

"Current readings show nothing to fear from food grown, harvested or produced in that area," a White House official said.