Date: April 11, 1979
Article: Now we know, what will we do?
Author: Neil C. Hopp
At the pinnacle of the crisis at Three Mile Island, CBS News Anchorman Walter Cronkite termed it "a day the world has never known before."
To thousands of Central Pennsylvanians, it was a living nightmare, the repercussions from which will be felt for decades to come.
Whatever final conclusions are reached about the nation's worst commercial nuclear power plant accident at an island just 23 miles from Carlisle, its events already are changing the course of nuclear power in America.
The magnitude of this local - and global - story requires a special effort by journalists, those who watched, and waited, and told the complex story to an anxious world.
The efforts of The Evening Sentinel are presented in this special edition, "Crisis at Three Mile Island."
There is much more to be said in the days ahead; hearings and investigations by the score will be held; blame will be assessed; the costs must be assumed; people, animal and plant life will be closely studied for perhaps 20 or 30 years. It will take that long to make the final determination of Three Mile Island.
But we begin today, not only with a journal of those fateful hours when an incredible series of events brought Pennsylvania and the nation to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe, but with a more far-reaching purpose as well: the obvious, and perhaps not so obvious, questions about the future.
There were warnings that went unheeded.
There were ironies that are hard to believe.
There is an ominous history of Three Mile Island's Unit 2 that must be reckoned with.
There are the people: those who fled, those who stayed, those who believe in nuclear power and those who do not, those who devised and sweated over the ultimate test of any civil defense plan and those who have returned to live again in the shadows of the giant cooling towers.
Beyond Goldsboro and Middletown - those towns that are now household words - how did the rest of the nation react? We've attempted to analyze that too, along with the critical role played by the press.
Finally, our own story, because it must be measured by the people we serve. It is a testament to young journalists who, faced with the most crucial story of their lives, remained firm in their dedication to seek the truth despite the inherent dangers.
"Crisis at Three Mile Island" also is a tribute to those men and women who volunteered in the face of fear and the unknown to plan for the safety of their fellow citizens. All of Cumberland County is in their debt.
The spectre of Three Mile Island is ours to dispel. Although the events of a few days ago will be described as a chilling chapter in American history, perhaps they can also serve to make mankind safer from that which he has wrought.
Neil C. Hopp
Newspaper: The Sentinel
Date: April 11, 1979
Article: An accounting is top priority
Author: Mary Anne Mulligan
The worst is over now.
And as the nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island slowly cools down, central Pennsylvania are calmly trying to reclaim lives interrupted two weeks ago by the worst commercial nuclear reactor accident in U.S. history.
Some things will never be the same.
For a week, Three Mile Island was the center of the globe.
The nightly network news originated in Middletown, a borough whose very name harks back to Middle America.
But in this Middletown, the unseen nuclear terror held those who did not flee in its unpredictable grip.
Now, evacuees have returned and reporters have left, and the aura of excitement and immediate fear has passed.
BUT THE STORY is not over.
The fear of cancer and leukemia among those who may have been exposed to abnormal radiation levels will persist for many years, and the effects of the mental anguish caused by a week's fear of the unknown may never be fully relieved.
It was a silent crisis, with none of the turbulence of other disasters.
But it is already causing an uproar.
Metropolitan Edison, the utility that operates the plant, announced last week it would consider passing costs of the accident on to its costumers, the same people who were nearly victims.
That news came fast on the heels of a $49 million Met-Ed rate hike approved by the Public Utilities Commission March 22, a week before the reactor accident.
That increase was formalized March 29, the day after the accident, but the PUC delayed the actual implementation by not approving the company's "compliance filing" of its exact rate schedule.
Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Mark Widoff called for an immediate suspension of the rate hike April 4, and PUC staff members Monday filed a petition for rehearing on the grounds that the increase was approved with the understanding that both reactors at TMA would be working.
BUT, FOR NOW at least, neither reactor is in operation.
Unit 1, down for refueling at the time of the accident, cannot be fired up until Met-Ed responds to an NRC bulletin issued April 5.
That bulletin was sent to operators of all reactors in the country similar to Unit 2, and it laid out guidelines to which operators were asked to respond.
Final responses to the bulletin are due by April 16, according to Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Gary Pitchford.
"Any action would come after Med-Ed's response is received," Pitchford said.
Meanwhile, Met-Ed faces NRC penalties that may include revocation of the license for Unit 2.
"Revocation of a license is one of the enforcement alternatives we would have," said NRC spokesman Jim Hanchette. "But it's at the extreme upper end of the enforcement alternatives, and the most unlikely.
"As long as they have an NRC license, they are responsible for the plant."
Hanchette said license revocation is the least likely possibility.
With the license, Met-Ed is financially responsible for the plant. If the license were revoked, someone else would have to pick up the tab for cleaning up the damaged reactor site.
Yet if that price tag is high enough, Met-Ed may be forced into bankruptcy proceedings.
That eventuality would probably be less disastrous for customers than it sounds, according to Joseph Malatesta Jr., PUC's deputy chief counsel.
"We would take every step to ensure that service would be continuous through the bankruptcy proceedings," he said.
"Bankruptcy is usually a reorganization - there's a settlement of its creditors and a new company usually springs from it."
But more immediate problems remain for Met-Ed.
The company's nuclear accident insurers, American Nuclear Insurers and Mutual Atomic Energy Liability Underwriters, had paid $815,000 in liability claims by Monday night, an insurance company spokeswoman said.
Claims this week were being accepted only from pregnant women and preschool children and their families who were told to leave their homes within a five-mile radius of the plant.
Spokeswoman Carol Dower said the insurers cannot yet make a statement on other types of claims they might accept.
Under federal law, the insurance company pays the first $143 million in claims to victims of a nuclear accident. Assessments of $5 million each on the nation's 67 licensed nuclear reactors can provide a second layer of coverage, and the federal government can add $85 million more, if needed.
The 1957 Price-Anderson Act places a $560 million ceiling on nuclear accident insurance coverage.
The company also faces a lengthy series of hearings on the federal, state and local level that will attempt to answer many of the questions surrounding the accident.
Newspaper: The Sentinel
Date: April 11, 1979
Article: Moving from a troubled past
Author: Kathy Liebler
Three Mile Island is three miles long, located three miles south of Middletown.
The property, owned by Metropolitan Edison Co. since 1906, is the site of two pressurized water nuclear reactors, Three Mile Island units 1 and 2, the 44th and 21st largest atomic reactors in the world.
Unit 1, a 792 - megawatt reactor, started commercially operating in 1974, after seven years of construction.
In 1970, construction of the larger Unit 2, a 905 - megawatt reactor, began, with commercial operation underway in December 1978.
Unit 2 became critical, that is operational when a sustained reaction was begun in the reactor core, March 28, 1978, at 4:37 a.m. Exactly one year later, almost to the hour, Three Mile Island's Unit 2 would be the site of the world's worst nuclear accident.
SOME CRITICS of nuclear power say, considering repeated mechanical failure during its testing period, Met-Ed should have never started up the power generating plant.
Although commercial operations of Unit 2 would not begin until Dec. 30, 1978, the reactor during its nine-month testing period prior to that time was shut down 195 of 274 days, consumer advocate Ralph Nader says. Public Citizen, a Nader "watchdog" group, has charged that Unit 2 was rushed into commercial operation Dec. 30 so the plant's owners could save $40 million in taxes in 1978.
Nader's report concludes that from the time Unit 2 went critical to the time it was placed in commercial service, problems and malfunctions occurred that contributed to the March 28 accident.
According to the investigation, the problems included 12 accidental trips, or malfunctions, including four that activated the emergency core cooling system, and seven shutdowns of the entire system for repairs.
The Nader report points out that despite the fact the unit was experiencing continual mechanical failures, in the nine-month period before Dec.30, Metropolitan Edison reported it had successfully completed start up tests and procedures required under the terms of its license and thereafter declared Unit 2 to be in commercial service.
THE LONG and troubled history of mechanical malfunctions is recorded in detail in records of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Unit 2 has been cited for as many as 22 safety violations, with the NRC claiming that two auxiliary coolant valves, under maintenance for at least two weeks before the accident, had been kept closed until the accident occurred.
The NRC has noted the seriousness of the violation stating "there would have been an entirely different outcome if the valves would have been operating as they should have been."
Facts compiled by Public Citizen and the staff of syndicated columnist Jack Anderson tell the story of Three Mile Island Unit 2 during its 1978 testing period and its short-lived history of commercial service.
Date and mechanical failures include:
April 1 - Unit 2 reactor trips in response to signal indicating pump failure in a primary coolant loop.
April 18 - Reactor trips due to electrical indication.
April 23 - Another electrical signal causes reactor trip and consequent turbine trip. Five of 12 main steam valves open and fail to close. Together with overfeeding of the steam generators, there is rapid loss of pressure in cooling system. Inspections later show failure of bellows due to design error and unsatisfactory performance of main steam relief valves. Plant is shut down for five months for redesign and parts replacement.
Sept. 18 - Plant is regenerated.
Sept. 20 and 25 - Reactor trips due to problems with main feed pumps.
Oct.13 - Valve in pressurizer in primary coolant system breaks down requiring shutdown of reactor.
Oct. 14 - Turbine trips due to loss of main feed water pump.
Oct. 20 - 21 - Turbine trips due to problems with power grid.
Oct. 28 - Turbine shut down for 3 ½ days for repair. Reactor is also shut down to repair a valve in the primary coolant.
Nov. 7 - Pump failure causes reactor to trip.
Nov. 21 - Feedwater system found contaminated with turbine lubricating oil, requiring 11-day clean up.
Dec. 16 - Turbine is shut down to repair main feedwater pump that will take six days.
Dec. 30 - 11 a.m.: Turbine is shut down to repair steam leak. 2:15 p.m.: Turbine is started. 11 p.m.: Plant is declared commercial, 25 hours before the end of the year.
Jan. 2, 1979 - Turbine is shut down to repair leaky valve.
Jan. 14 - Turbine shut down again because of leaky valve, also reactor is shut down to repair leaks in isolation valves connected with pressurizer.
Jan. 15 - Reactor is restarted. During a turbine trip test, the steam is released due to a loss of vacuum in condenser. A steam expansion bellows ruptures, venting steam to the control building. Power to pressurize is lost and reactor trips. Reactor is cooled to make repairs and is out of service for 17 days.
Feb. 2 - A heater pump breaks down.
Feb. 6- A main feedwater pump trips twice causing automatic reduction to 55 percent power.
Feb. 10 - Turbine is shut down to repair leaky valve in the secondary coolant system.
March 28 - Series of malfunctions occurs at Three Mile Island Unit 2 releasing significant amounts of radiation and creating significant danger of core meltdown.
Met-Ed officials, asked to comment on the plant shutdowns and mechanical failures, said, "Material is not available to confirm or deny the reports at this time."
Newspaper: The Sentinel
Date: April 11, 1979
Article: into a future that's uncertain
Author: Deb Cline
The Three Mile Island crisis hasn't ended before plans were made to investigate
what went wrong and what the effects of the accident would be.
Hearings and investigations will be held in Harrisburg and in Washington D.C - before state agencies and legislative committees and before committees of the U.S Congress.
President Carter, who visited the Three Mile Island site last Sunday, has also announced creation of a special presidential commission to investigate the causes of the nuclear accident and recommend ways to improve plant safety.
While legislative efforts to probe the accident could be consolidated to save time, money and avoid confusion, they will probably not be.
On the federal congressional level, every committee or subcommittee in the U.S. House and Senate that has any jurisdiction at all over nuclear energy will likely conduct hearings of some kind.
THE INVESTIGATIONS on the state level will be more consolidated, but still, the Senate and House may hold separate hearings on the matter instead of joining forces.
The state Public Utility Commission, which has responsibility for approving or denying utility rate hikes, will conduct an informal investigation into the accident. That investigation could determine whether Metropolitan Edison, part owner of the power plant, will be able to implement a rate hike granted it March 29 and whether it will receive additional funds to help pay for the accident costs.
THE NUCLEAR Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that has licensing power over nuclear power plants, will likely hold hearings and issue a report on Three Mile Island. But the schedule of those hearings is not yet available.
NRC officials did brief the five agency commissioners last Wednesday in preparation for future hearings.
One congressional spokesman said the NRC is expected to confine its hearings to the specific accident and persons involved at Three Mile Island and is not likely to deal with differing philosophies about the safety of nuclear energy.
THE SITUATION at Three Mile Island had barely eased when Sen. Edward Kennedy's Health and Scientific Research Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Human Resources began to hold hearing on the potential long range effects of radiation emissions from the plant.
The House Interior subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, chaired by Rep. Morris Udall, also held hearings last Thursday and may schedule others.
The only other hearings actually scheduled thus far will be held by the U.S. House subcommittee on Energy Research and Production.
The hearings, which are set to begin May 15 and end June 7, will cover nuclear power plant safety, nuclear high level waste management and low level radiation.
Other congressional committees that may hold hearings or investigations include Sen. Henry Jackson's Energy and Natural Resources Committee or one of its subcommittees; Sen. Gary Hart's subcommittee on Nuclear Regulation, part of the Senate Committee of the Environment and Public Works; the House subcommittee on Health and the Environment.
Other potential hearing panels are the Government Operations Committees in the House and Senate; the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee's subcommittee on Advanced Energy Technology, Conservation, Development and Demonstration.
There are six House subcommittees alone that deal with energy, and all may want to get in on the Three Mile Island action.
THERE IS NOT expected to be as much duplication of investigative efforts on the state as on the federal level.
State House leaders have basically agreed to form a 24-member panel composed of members of six standing committees to conduct a Three Mile Island investigation.
The committee, proposed by a group of Central Pennsylvania legislatures, would include members of the House committee on agriculture, business and commerce, consumer affairs, health and welfare, military and veterans affairs and mines and energy management committees.
Rep. Stephen Reed, D-Harrisburg, one of the legislators to propose the committee, said the probe will not begin until a cold shutdown is achieved at the power plant. He said many of the witnesses the committee would call are working at the plant.
And he said the committee wants to avoid reaching premature conclusions about the situation.
Among the subjects the legislators suggest the committee examine are the effectiveness of existing emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures, additional safety and regulatory procedures, methods of improving federal, state and local coordination, review of health and safety hazards and an examination of the role of nuclear power in meeting the state's energy needs.
Newspaper: The Sentinel
Date: April 11, 1979
Article: For most, the crisis wasn't that bad
Author: Deb Cline
Three Mile Island hasn't been all bad.
In spite of increased anxiety, threats of radiation exposure and possible evacuation felt by many and the uncertain longterm economic results of the nuclear accident, local mental health professionals have seen some positive sides to the crisis.
The good things about the accident are most apparent in the way people view themselves and their friends and family and the way people worked together during the most serious moments.
"In crisis, people do evaluate where they are, where they've been and where they'd like to go," said Stephen Coslett, a clinical psychologist and Dickinson College professor.
"That can be a healthy thing for couples and other people, too."
People re-evaluate, Coslett said, because until a crisis jolts them out of their daily routine, they often get into a rut.
"THEY DON'T ever really step back and take a look."
During a potential life or death situation, he added, "some things don't seem so important. (People begin to think) maybe there are some bigger things in life than that."
John Calhoun, coordinator of Holy Spirit Hospital's crisis intervention center, agrees crises such as Three Mile Island probably cause people to re-examine their priorities in life.
But he said, "that is an immediate kind of thing. Whether it continues on a long term basis, I don't know."
According to David McLane, Carlisle Counseling Center director, TMI may also have jolted people into some other kinds of thinking.
"I have sensed a greater sensitivity on the part of adults to their children because a great deal of the unknown about the accident focuses on children 10 years of age and younger. It has created some enhanced sensitivity to kids," McLane said.
COSLETT SAW benefits for the entire family during the height of Three Mile Island.
"Families, the ones who left, took care of themselves. They didn't depend on county or local officials. That sent a real important message to kids," Coslett said.
"You saw a lot of very busy professional people leaving. It said to the kids, 'I may be at the office an awful lot , but when the chips are down, we're here.'
"It said loud and clear, 'When it gets to push and shove, you guys are first.' That was a good message for an awful lot of families.
"I was pleased they took care of themselves," he said. "Being head of a family is a difficult thing. This was one time they acted as a family and did a good job. I like that."
Coslett believes the fact that people could leave the area if they wanted to was healthy, perhaps cutting down on crisis intervention calls or visits to mental health centers during the crisis.
THE NUMBER of calls to the Holy Spirit crisis intervention center, though, has increased since the crisis calmed, a not altogether unexpected occurrence, according to Calhoun.
Calhoun said the reaction of people during past disasters indicates there is a lull in calls during a crisis, but that calls pick up after the crisis has abated.
"Our work definitely has increased in relation to anxiety related to the event," Calhoun said.
He said the number of calls may have increased 10 to 20 percent their usual level. They "are mostly an expression of they felt while they were going through it, some uneasiness, nothing drastic."
McLane said the number of calls taken by the Carlisle Counseling Center's crisis intervention center has not increased at any point during Three Mile Island. However, they may increase several months from now, depending on the longterm impact of the accident.
"The degree of economic impact will affect the referrals coming to us," McLane said. "Loss of a job, high utility payments, things like that tend to precipitate mental health problems."
BUT NO ONE yet knows how serious the longterm impact will be, or if there will be any.
The immediate psychological and emotional reactions of many persons to Three Mile Island included fear, depression, preoccupation with the accident, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, attempts to keep very busy, denial and anger.
Dr. John Mira, associate medical director of the Carlisle Counseling Center, said such symptoms are normal during a crisis but should disappear within a few weeks of the event.
More longterm reactions, Mira said, may be manifestations of latent emotional problems. Or, they may become part of the reactions of already severely neurotic or psychotic individuals.
"Normally adjusted individuals shouldn't have longterm effects," he said.
But psychological and emotional reactions would have been expected to be more severe if Three Mile Island had resulted in loss of life or damage to land surrounding the plant.
IF EVACUATION had been necessary, some individuals would probably have reacted with extreme denial, refusing to leave their homes under any circumstances.
"For some people, their home is their source of security," Costlett said. "Evacuation is very traumatic for those people." "Although a small percentage, these people would almost rather die on their front porch than leave. Their attitude is, "I pay my taxes. This is my castle. This is my security."
Coslett believes, however, that most people reacted well to the situation, either leaving if that made them feel better or working on their own contingency plan.
Keeping busy in other ways was another good way to cope, according to Calhoun.
But, he said, "That does not mean you should be blocking out or completely forgetting about what's happening. It's out there and it's real. It's just as healthy to talk about it and get out your feelings and frustrations and anxiety. It's always good to do that."
Coslett believes it is a lot easier to cope with definite news even if it is negative than news that is uncertain.
Frequent conflicting reports about Three Mile Island didn't help matters.
"What we lack in fact, we make up in fiction," he said, "and we usually make it up worse than it is."
MIRA BELIEVES some uncertainty, perhaps fear, will continue until the Three Mile Island accident is at least a year old.
"If they start up the plant again, people will be uncomfortable until one year goes by. If nothing happens then, they will probably be able to accept it.
"There will be some who won't ever feel comfortable with it, but people tend to forget, especially after an anniversary date goes by," Mira said.
But although some negative aspects of the accident may remain, Coslett believes the positive attitude reflected in many Three Mile Island teeshirts (I survived Three Mile Island") may prevail.
"You can make it into anything you want to make it into," he said. "You can make it a growth experience If you want to read dread and gloom into it, you can do that too. But we grow through stress.
"There is a growth that can come out of trauma in thinking that we coped with the greatest nuclear power disaster in the world and we came out of it okay."
Editor's Note: Portions of this story appeared in the Wednesday, April 4, Evening Sentinel.