29 March 2009 by Published in: General musings 9 comments

…the accident at Three Mile Island occurred. The accident, whereby Metropolitan Edison’s nuclear reactor nearly melted down, happened two days after my 18th birthday. I was in twelfth grade, eager to graduate and move on. However, the loss of coolant and resulting release of a large amount of radioactivity into the surrounding environment was a big deal. Although nobody died in the accident itself, statistics suggest that there has been an increase in leukemia and other cancers in the surrounding communities situated most closely to the plant, which still operates one reactor to this day.

My parents’ house is just over 60 miles from Three Mile Island, and when the accident occurred and for the next few days, things were absolutely nerve wracking. Nobody knew the extent of the damage to the reactor, and nobody knew for sure that the nuclear reaction had been slowed enough to control it. We also didn’t know just how close we came to a full-scale meltdown of catastrophic proportions. For a few days, things were really touch and go. Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who had only been in office for about 60 days when the accident happened, had a full-scale crisis on his hands, and it was an unprecedented one. Nobody knew precisely what to do. And coming two weeks after the release of the movie The China Syndrome, a media frenzy ensued.

I remember when Pres. Jimmy Carter, a trained nuclear engineer, visited the site in an effort to calm a terrified public. Carter’s presence that day was both welcome and reassuring.

At one point, a plan to evacuate a radius of 60 miles from the crippled plant was announced. My parents’ house is just outside that radius by a mile or two, so we were debating whether to pack up and go, too. It was an incredibly stressful and uncertain time that remains indelibly burned in my memory banks. Of course, the crisis passed in a few days, and the damaged reactor was sealed in concrete. But for those few days, it was touch and go.

My alma mater, Dickinson College, is about 25 miles from TMI as the crow flies. Students had just come back from spring break a week or so before the accident happened, and after the accident occurred, the College administration made the prompt decision to shut down and sent students home for the duration. I remember arriving on campus that August and seeing students wearing t-shirts that would be real collector’s items today: they commemorated surviving what became known as the College’s 1979 “radiation vacation”. I wish I had one of those shirts.

I drive by that plant on the Pennsylvania Turnpike each time I go home to Reading to see my parents, and each time, I see those cooling towers looming over the shallow Susquehanna River. I see the steam billowing from the cooling tower of the still functioning Unit 1, and I remember those scary, wild days of my youth. It’s hard to believe that thirty years have passed since that frightening day.

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Comments

  1. Steve Basic
    Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 12:51 am

    Eric,

    I too was surprised that it has been 30 years since that event happened. Read about in one of the local papers here..you know the this day in history blurbs they run every day.

    I remember the exhaustive news coverage, especially from the NY TV stations, and how noone knew how to react if an accident like that took place in my neck of the woods.

    I was 15 at the time, and it was one of the first events that I really paid attention to on the news. The accident caused a great deal of concern in the music industry. The No Nukes concerts here in NYC were born because of it, and various artists recorded songs based on the anti nuke stand. Couple that come to my memory were songs by James Taylor “Stand and Fight” and Dan Fogelberg’s “Face The Fire”.

    And leave it to the folks at SNL, who came up with one of the all time best skits they ever did on the show…”The Pepsi Syndrome”. Has been a long time since I saw it, but the accident occurred when Bill Murray spilled Pepsi on the control panel. Garrett Morris played a maid, who was sent in to the reactor to clean up the mess with a mop, and naturally Jimmy Carter, played by Dan Ackroyd helped the maid. They both grew to giants from the exposure to the mess, and the Giant Carter announces to all that he is leaving Rosalyn to marry the Maid. 🙂

    Hope all is well.

    Steve

  2. kevin a kearns
    Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 10:41 am

    why exactly was carter a bad president?camp david talks still stand.ive heard this statement from others who think reagan was awsome i was just wondering why people think his 4 years were terrible.

  3. Deb
    Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I find it harder to beleive it’s been 5 years since the 25th aniv, seems like only yesterday.

    I was 11 at the time, and here in Gburg we had a lot of people from over in Middletown come down here.

    Jimmy Carter is a great man.

  4. Stevan F. Meserve
    Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Remember, Eric, more people died at Chappaquiddick than at Three Mile Island.

  5. Ptrostle
    Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Eric,

    I was ok until my Civics teacher, during a discussion of TMI, let this little tidbit fly:

    “Frankly, I’m not certain we should be in school. We should all probably be with our families.”

  6. Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Guys,

    My intent with this post was not to get into a discussion of politics. And it’s not going to happen.

    If you want to leave comments, please, by all means, do so. However, any that are purely about politics will be deleted.

    Eric

  7. Mon 30th Mar 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Eric,
    I recall the TMI incident, but of course it was rather distant geographically. However, I do remember this day for an incident that occurred in 1981.

    Now you’d think the numerology folks will go to town on that coincidence!

  8. kevin a kearns
    Tue 31st Mar 2009 at 7:13 pm

    could you please delete my last question about carters presidency i could have sworn you wrote that carter wont be remembered well by historians and i wondered why that was so,i didnt mean to talk politics.

  9. Tue 31st Mar 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Kevin,

    It did originally have an off-handed statement by me about Carter’s presidency, but I edited it out when people started taking the comments to this post in a direction that I didn’t want it to go.

    Eric

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