Newspaper: The Sentinel

Date: April 9, 1979

Article: Iodine risk lower; state still cautious

Author: United Press International


HARRISBURG, Pa. (UPI) - The risk of cancer-causing iodine contamination in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident has been greatly reduced, federal officials say.

But for the 11th consecutive day, Gov. Dick Thornburgh today warned pregnant women and little children to stay clear of a five-mile radius of the stricken nuclear power plant as a precaution.

But in an interview with CBS, Thornburgh later said "my hope would be within the next day or so we can advise those people to return to the area." Asked if that meant today, the governor said, "We hope so."

THORNBURGH MADE his decision to keep the advisory in effect after meeting Sunday night with two high-ranking officials of the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Chairman Joseph Hendrie and Harold Denton, the commission's top expert on the scene.

In a brief statement Sunday night, the NRC said, "conditions at the reactor continue to improve." Thornburgh has said he will not lift the advisory for pregnant women and preschool children until the danger has completely passed.

Residents of the stricken area flocked to churches Sunday - Palm Sunday - to give thanks that the worst of America's most serious nuclear crisis apparently was over. Others staged a demonstration to demand an end to nuclear power.

In Middletown, Pa., one of the communities nearest the Susquehanna River plant site, 267 people turned up to pray at the Evangelical United Methodist Church. A week ago, at the height of crisis, only 112 people attended services.

"Brothers and sisters, be thankful for every evidence of his (God's) mercy toward us," the Rev. Percy Brown said during the service Sunday.

ON THE STEPS of the Pennsylvania State Capitol, more than 500 protestors carrying signs reading "Split Wood Not Atoms" and "Fission Not, Fail Not," asked that the Three Mile Island plant be closed.

In Middletown, an NRC official, Robert Bernero, said engineers applied sodium thyosulfate and hydrazine to radioactive iodine in the plant during the weekend and were successful in stabilizing it.
"Iodine doesn't dissolve freely. Iodine is one of the principal contributors to radiation doses. It can get in kids' milk and cause thyroid cancer. Now airborne releases of iodine are less likely," Bernero said.

Iodine has been detected - but in reportedly small, unharmful amounts - in milk from the Pennsylvania dairy farmland that surrounds the plant site.

In another development, Bernero said engineers started up their degasification plan to eliminate radioactive gases within the nuclear power plant's cooling system and start the process of bringing the reactor to a safe, cold shutdown.

NRC OFFICIALS also said 186 400-pound pallets of charcoal were sent to Three Mile Island from Pasco, Wash., for use in a backup filtering system to stop iodine and other radioactive gases from getting into the air.

Another small cloud of low-level radiation burst from the crippled nuclear power plant site Saturday night during a continuing plan to depressurize the plant's reactor cooling system, the NRC said.

NRC officials said the latest average maximum reading on radiation levels around the plant was 0.05 milliems per hour a mile away from Three Mile Island. They called the level insignificant.