tv Governor Thornburgh and Three Mile Island CSPAN March 31, 2019 8:17am-8:31am EDT
and the decline of the american middle class. you may join us for a reception immediately after the seminar and thank you to our audience for today's seminar. [applause] announcer: this is american history tv on c-span three, where each we can, we feature 48 hours of programs exploring a nation's past. for more information, you can check out our website at c-span.org/history. 40 years ago on march 20 8, 1979, the reactor at the three mile island nuclear power plant in pennsylvania partially melted down. pennsylvania's governor at the for the next 10 minutes, we visit the university of pittsburgh archive service center to hear more about the accident and governor
thornburgh's role. been, prime concern has is, and remains a concern for the safety of residents of the area and of those workers who must carry out the responsibility of decontamination of the unit two facility. the most pressing question is, which of the alternatives is the safest? and if i'm satisfied that there is an alternative which meets that description, then i certainly was supported because i am concerned about the same in this area. we are at the university of pittsburgh library, and we are going to be looking at some of the collections. he is a pittsburgh or from the start, attended law school here. governor ofon to be
pennsylvania, u.s. attorney general, and his archive collection is of university of pittsburgh. is large, which is an understatement considering it is on thousand 52. he was elected governor in 1979 on was being sworn in january 16, 1979. -- he there with his ended up being sworn in literally with his wife decided. 72 days after his inauguration he was busy with matters pertaining to the upcoming watch it, meeting with people in the governor's home, when a phone onl came at 7:50 a.m. wednesday, march 28. it was announcing to the new governor that there was an accident at a nearby nuclear plant on three mile island.
accidentsd nuclear had amazing repercussions and uncertainties and difficulties ahead. in the next morning, early the day, his notes prefer to damageheard mentions of and consulting through the whole day, that did not change but what to do was an enigma. enough-read and knew from the very start an accident at a nuclear plant was something truly serious. and immediately, he had to pull together a very small group of people that he could trust to pursue the needs of that emergency from pennsylvania and he himself had to be sure that the public, once they knew about this accident, was consistently,
appropriately, calmly informed. as time went on, trying to understand what happened, the reports were conflicting. every day, practically every hour, there was a change. this one, for example so there's absolutely no danger of a meltdown. as he underlined, there were conflicting reports. someone else said there's no way radioactive material was released, but there was. it became known later that day and ongoing. there was a leak and radiation had been released. it was a matter of how much, and what to do about it. the company itself reversed its opinions and statements almost hourly, so they were useful. and his own personnel, at that point, were not nuclear experts, so he really was rather -- until
he can find someone to get the real facts. the news that something had happened on the nuclear plant got around the world and the country quickly. reporters came from far and wide. by the end of the week, even, there were hundreds of them in the state capital wanting to know what had happened and of course, the governor himself did not know at that time. headlines were just blasting out. risk of meltdown at pennsylvania nuclear plant. more radioactive gases released. so, the nation is getting information about what happened, but doesn't understand why or what could be done about it. on, the governor really did not know the ramifications of some of these releases of
radiation. he did advise people in the immediate area to stay inside, that was a recommendation. juston friday which was two days later, he asked and advised mothers with young children to go out of the area and they provided locations for did, fortay, and they some days thereafter. he did consider ordering evacuation, but he was very cognizant that there was hazard, great hazard in doing that without planning or any circumstances, so he was loath to do that unless it became specifically, unavoidably necessary. thornburgh was able to get telephone communications to the
president on friday and the president asked, what can i do for you? scientists and folks from the nuclear regulatory agency to tell me what really is going on. done anddent says it's he sent a military helicopter with people from the nuclear regulatory agency to figure it out and let everyone out. an engineer with the nuclear regulatory commission, a very smart man had only been employed there for six months, but he was the one who signed to go up there to see what was happening. about 100,000 gallons of highly contaminated water in the primary system. all the water that was spilled inside the containment is still inside the containment. that's roughly 600,000 gallons of highly contaminated water. i see no imminent chance of any
of that water being released. inhas got to be cleaned up the water that's in the primary system and the walls of the containment has to be washed and that collected and the decontamination must go on. >> i think the agency in washington did not really understand them selves have serious it was until they got there to take a look and determine that it was pretty serious. ultimately, they were able to the so-called bubble was not going to burst and there was not going to be a meltdown, which was what language was out there for people's fears. that, thet of president actually came up to harrisburg the next day with theus carter and met
governor, lieutenant governor, and they actually had a tour of the control room. and this is all because they had assurance it was not going to blow up. they could go and talk to the engineers. after the tour of the control room, the president held a press including lieutenant governor scranton. statement onalm his part commending the population in the area for their careful thinking and caution in the case of the accident and praising thornburgh, the governor. left and thesident populace knew there was not going to be an explosion, people
who did leave returned to their homes. the mothers and children that had been away from their homes returned, and things began to really be calm. and the news reports were no longer accident meltdown, but inrnburgh did a great job crisis, a builder of confidence. and there were many articles like this, where his capacity for handling this really serious event had been so successful and appropriate. once it was determined that was a leak, not an explosion or a meltdown, that did not solve the problem just i understanding that and it took years for engineers to determine how to fix it. did takeg and going on 10 years and cost $1 billion. med inthings cal
harrisburg, it then behooved washington to find out what had gone on. on united states senate just april 19 wrote to governor thornburgh and said we are pleased to invite you to be our lead witness in our committee and we would like your presence at any -- and any principal state officials you wish. one of the papers that i pulled out i thought was particularly telling. his quote from his speech was the toughest decision of all, i had towas the one make 24 hours per day throughout the crisis. that was, of course, the decision not to order and evacuation. that would have been unprecedented in its nature as well as its potential for harm. despite having started off his
career as governor, a two-term governor with a massive emergency, his team and his policies and his balance budget were favorably received by the state of pennsylvania and he, in his concluding times, was very broadly, affectionately regarded. announcer: 40 years ago on march 20 8, 1909, three mile island nuclear power plant near harrisburg, pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown, the worst nuclear power accident in u.s. history. next, american history tv and the washington journal are live, taking your calls and questions. today's guests are similar walker, author of "three mile island: a nuclear crisis and historical perspective. and the union of concerned scientists.