THREE MILE ISLAND by Mark Stephens


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Too bad China Syndrome came first, because this overview of Three Mile Island, neatly juxtaposing the chaos inside the plant with the chaos outside, makes a fine adventure tale. Journalist Stephens, who worked with the President's Commission investigating TMI (and who claims neutrality on the nuclear issue), describes his account as one of ""confusion, waste, and ineptitude,"" with 26 agencies searching ""often not for information, truth, or success, but for public attention."" The crisis begins with ""tired workers"" using water to loosen resin in a pipe. Some water escapes into control valves, triggering automatic equipment responses to accommodate the problem, and incorrect human responses to compound it. As the familiar story unfolds--deep radioactive water in the unit, the exposed reactor core, the hydrogen bubble--neighbors notice ""a strange metallic taste in the air""; Middletown's mayor, searching for information, resorts to radio reports; and the likes of Governor Thornburgh, Lt. Governor Scranton, Metropolitan Edison, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Pennsylvania's Emergency Management Agency engage in a tug-of-war over directing and announcing events. Scranton announces possible radioactivity off the TMI site--Met-Ed says no; radioactive steam is vented periodically--Met-Ed says ""Don't worry about it""; news bulletins warn of imminent meltdown, until a White House gag order silences all reports and Carter visits the scene. Stephens ends his account a bit abruptly, jumping to a quick update--mysterious animal deaths have occurred on area farms; TMI's reactor still runs, and Met-Ed's president admits, ""We can't turn it off""--and blaming the accident on human error (as do the utility company and the NRC). Still, a dramatic, responsible recap, offering no treatises pro- or antinuclear power.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Random House