By J. Samuel Walker
In the spring of 1979, a movie opened in theaters across the country. It featured the story of a near disaster at a nuclear power plant which had the potential to kill thousands if the core’s containment system failed. The movie was The China Syndrome, and it proved to be an eerie premonition of a very similar accident just 12 days later outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The incident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant began with a simple stuck valve, later escalating due to confusing warning systems and incomplete staff training. While a portion of the core did melt, the worst case scenario – a breaching of the redundant containment system – didn’t happen. The lack of clear lines of command, however, led to near-panic as residents in the Mid-Atlantic wondered what to do. This event - and the confusion caused by the tangled chain of command and communication - was one of the first challenges to face the newly-formed agency known as FEMA.
Walker’s book drills into great detail about the causes of the accident, the response by local, state and national officials and how Three Mile Island changed the course of nuclear energy.
Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida