Skip to main content

tv   Reel America Fallout from Three Mile Island - 1979  CSPAN  March 31, 2019 4:00pm-4:50pm EDT

4:00 pm
having allies. we should definitely fight with allies, they are very helpful. >> you are watching american history tv on c-span3. on march 28,go, the three mile island reactor near harrisburg pennsylvania partially melted down. according to the nuclear regulatory commission, this was america," "reel fallout from three mile island," from reports documentary
4:01 pm
may 1, 1979. it visit to connecticut nuclear power plant, interviews nuclear power proponents and skeptics, and looks at how similar incidents can be avoided in the future. >> it is time for evacuation. please stay indoors with your windows closed. >> this is not a community that scares easily. major floods and hurricane agnes has come here, and the town has survived. but for almost a week last month, the people of middletown, pennsylvania lived in fear of an enemy they couldn't see, hear, or feel. thousands left their homes. many thinking they were fleeing for their lives. but when everyone returned eight days after the crisis began, they wondered if anything could ever be the same again.
4:02 pm
>> you have to leave your house. you were born in your house. we were evacuating the school because of the radiation. >> i had a dream that the thing blew up. >> mom and dad got real worried. they turned on the television and the radio and they listened all night. and they said there is nothing to worry about, so we stayed. >> are you having dreams? what are the dreams? >> about three-mile island. >> what is happening in your
4:03 pm
dreams? tell me. >> people start -- and they start to go into traffic. as soon as we get to the place where we are going to, all of a sudden, it blew up. narrator: cathy martin's nightmare never came true. love for three or four days last month, many of us shared the same bad dreams. the scientists seemed helpless, the politicians confused. for a while, no one seemed to know what was going on or what to do.
4:04 pm
tonight, the accident at three mile island and its impact. cbs report with ed bradley. "fallout from three-mile island." narrator: there are 72 nuclear power plants in the united states. this is the site of two of them in waterford, connecticut. inside, they are all somewhat the same. critical to them all is the room behind the store. the containment, the last line of defense between nuclear accidents and the environment. this is where at all went wrong at three mile island. to try to understand what happened there, we came here. john is the plant superintendent. >> this is a vessel that has a quarter inch steel liner. on outside of the liner, it has 4-6 feet of concrete depending on the location.
4:05 pm
the containment vessel is designed to contain all the pressure of the gas in case of a hypothetical accident. narrator: the accident at three mile island was not hypothetical, it happened. it will be months, perhaps years, before somebody can go safely inside. the 96 tons of uranium in the core is kept under water at all times. the nightmare at any plant is that the cooling water will drain off and the uranium rods melt down. >> this is the top of the reactor vessel. it contains all of the control rod shrouds. the fuel is located inside the reactor vessel right now. narrator: at three mile island, more than half of the 36,000 fuel rods in that core sustained
4:06 pm
some damage when a series of human and mechanical errors conspired to send the core out of control. pumps failed. valves stuck. in the control room, a gauge jammed. operators made mistakes. water needed to cool the core, exposing fuelam, rods, the first step towards a meltdown. and then came the hydrogen bubble, and with it, the threat of an explosion. m.i.t. physicist henry kendall. >> the worst thing that could've happened to that reactor would have been to have the reactor core get completely out of control, overheat with really soaring temperatures, meltdown through the structures of the reactor into the ground, with some risk of the building rupturing, or some piece of the building giving way. if that happened, it would have been a very large release of radioactivity to the air. and it would have been blown by
4:07 pm
the winds along the ground. it could have brought radiation exposure at very serious levels, lethal levels at distances of dozens of miles, perhaps 20-30 miles. it could have caused radiation sickness out to distances downwind of 60 miles, or 70 miles. narrator: hundreds of reporters were in harrisburg last month. among them, a number of cbs news crews covering the minute by minute developments at three mile island. but it became quickly evident that the power plant accident would continue to be a major story, with implications long after the crisis. in the midst of the drama, cbs reports dispatched documentary teams, not only to harrisburg, but to the white house, texas, and connecticut, to examine the implications of the accident not evident at the time. we talked to many of the key
4:08 pm
players both during the crisis and immediately after. as we watched, a disturbing pattern emerged. all those who should have had the answers seemed trapped within a frightening search for the facts. >> nrc has ordered officials to seven other nuclear plants around the country. narrator: richard thornburg had been governor of pennsylvania for less than 3 months. he was the first elected official to confront the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe. it was the worst accident in the history of the nuclear industry. but when the first call came into thornburgh at 8:00 a.m., march 28, no one suggested the dimensions of the problem. two hours later, the lieutenant governor was so reassured by the plants operator that he announced everything was under control. but then, that same afternoon in a spot check at the state capitol, the governor's own inspectors pick up abnormal readings of radiation. the search for the truth was underway. the governor's press secretary talked to producer george. >> the company was giving us conflicting statements, and it
4:09 pm
did not take us too long to find out that they were failing either intentionally or unintentionally to tell us the whole story. >> on the first day of the crisis, does the utility company, metropolitan edison, refuse to acknowledge what the real difficulty is? >> that is correct. >> and even when confronted with the fact that you know the radiation levels are high, they do not agree with you that there is something terrible happening. >> that is correct. >> they don't even notify us in advance so that we can properly prepare the public, which is our responsibility, which is the governor's responsibility, for the fact that there are emissions. and they were planned and -- they were planned omissions,
4:10 pm
they weren't accidental. >> you mean their engineers purposely released those emissions? >> that is correct. for a period of at least two hours. and they did not notify the state so that we could carry out our proper responsibilities to protect the public. narrator: by friday, day 3 of the crisis, everyone began to discover how wrong things were at the plant. that morning, metropolitan edison had released emissions to prevent an explosion. afterwards, the utility spokesman had to face a hostile press. >> the release, it may have been xenon, but it can be released through water at acceptable limits. the release yesterday was within the limits that were acceptable. i don't know why we need to tell you each and everything that we do. specifically when we make -- [reporters shouting questions] >> mr. irvine, mr. irvine, you have responsibility for the millions of people living around the plant, to keep them informed? >> we certainly feel responsible
4:11 pm
for the people that live around the plant. of the things of those people -- one of the things of those people have to recognize is that we have to get on with our jobs. >> he thinks he knows everything about nuclear in my book, but he doesn't know nothing. anything could blow. that is my look at it. let's face it, they could not come out and say it because your neighbor would be running over you to try to get away. >> i agree with you 100%. you know that is exactly what happened. suppose he came out and told you the truth now, do you think that people would not be scared? they got to cover up something. narrator: metropolitan edison was not necessarily engaged in a cover-up. it seems more likely that the company simply did not understand how serious the problem was. there had already been a partial meltdown. but it wasn't until the early morning hours on friday that federal inspectors discovered it. by then, something totally unforeseen was happening.
4:12 pm
a massive hydrogen bubble formed in the reactor vessel and pressure was building. some experts felt the reactor was moving towards a china syndrome, a meltdown. this is the incident center at the nuclear regulatory headquarters. it was here that the government's nuclear experts gathered when the accident at three mile island was first reported. here they would stay until the crisis was over. >> you know what i am talking about? the other one that they didn't put into operation yet. you need air and you need power to keep that thing open. we will see if we can find out what we have in terms of diagrams. narrator: there is an air of confidence in this room, but the echoes of the nrc's helplessness can still be heard in this tape recording. an exchange as they try to
4:13 pm
decide whether to call governor thornburgh. then he said, we are operating almost totally in the blind. his information is ambiguous. mine is nonexistent. it is like a couple of blind man staggering around making decisions. >> i hate to keep harping on it, but the principal concern we have had throughout this whole process is to get the facts because any overreaction or counterproductive reaction has enormous consequences. this is a totally unique event. it is not like a flood or you can say, the water is rising, it is up to 30 feet, or 35 feet. here, you must deal with a situation that has never before occurred. what was going through my mind
4:14 pm
was that i had the ultimate responsibility for the health and safety for a great many old -- great many people and decisions had to be made and i simply did not have confidence in the facts i had to make those decisions. >> did the governor set up a task force to oversee everything? we started to think along those lines of setting up some sort of a task force. narrator: reporters were coming to harrisburg from all over the country. but on friday morning, the governor still did not know for sure what was happening. he couldn't even make the telephone work. circuits were jammed with word -- with worried callers that it took 40 minutes to get to the white house. when he finally talked to the president, he asked for one man i could trust. one man who could tell me what is happening. that man was harold denton, the n.r.c.'s chief of reactor regulation. what was the situation when you arrived?
4:15 pm
what did you find? >> nobody really knew what was going on inside the reactor. we did not have good estimates in terms of fuel damage, the atmosphere in the containment, what systems were working, what had really cost of the accident, what types of releases were occurring. we were trying to get organized to cover all these things. >> shouldn't you have been able to get this information from the utility company? >> it was not that they were unwilling to give it. they were so busy coping with the problems that existed that they had hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in the containment building floor. they had 50,000 gallons in the auxiliary building overflowing. tanks were overflowing. drains were overflowing. instruments were off-scale due to the magnitude of the release. they were really trying to cope with the problem, somewhat analogous to a plane in flight when you're having trouble, they were not able to stop and transfer information out on what was happening, they were too busy trying to terminate the problem. narrator: at last, the governor
4:16 pm
had someone to give him the facts. but no one was prepared for what denton told them. >> he told us about the hydrogen bubble and gave us the details. he told us what the implications could be. namely that if the oxygen filled up too fast, that we could have an explosion that would crack the containment and release, eventually resulting in a huge release of radiation. when it really came home to me, is that our chief of radiological protection for the state, who has been in the business for 26 years and knows and understands what all these things mean, when he said that, when mr. denton told us that over the phone, i saw him bury his head in his hands and say, oh my god. >> i don't like the sound. the bubble to creep down in the core. >> at an think we went to de-pressurize yet. didn't hurt many
4:17 pm
people. i am not sure why you're not moving people? i have to say it. i don't know what we are protecting at this point. i think we ought to be moving people. >> how far out? >> get them downwind. the wind is still meandering. probably not bad, it is dispersing. >> how far? >> after 10 miles, it will not kill many people. there aren't that many people near, they had days to get ready. 40,000. narrator: the n.r.c. safety expert, upon discovering how close the reactor was to a meltdown. he was talking to the commissioners, calling for a total evacuation of the communities around the plant. until last month, no community in this country, no government, local, state, or federal, had been willing to think the
4:18 pm
unthinkable and prepare for a major nuclear accident. the white house in the midst of the crisis. the president had established a command post to deal with three mile island. overnight, plans had to be thrown together to cope with evacuation, and mass radiation exposure. the president's aide. >> the possibility of an evacuation around the site is, -- is a real one? >> yes. >> how long would it take you to get those 800,000 people out of the area? >> the 800,000 figure is a worst-case figure. that is a figure that would employ movement in the whole 20-mile radius, and a total circumference of 20 miles. that is highly unlikely. both of the options we are talking about now are 5 and 10 mile radiuses. >> the doctors and nurses are ok.
4:19 pm
i think we have just about exhausted the red cross capability with 40,000 cots. what arrangements have been made on the use of gettysburg national park? >> no arrangements have been made because of the assessment that we will not need a tent city in gettysburg. if there is radio activity you don't want them to go there. narrator: these meetings, which began the day the bubble was discovered, continued for several days. the crisis couldn't have come at a worse time. the president, through energy james schl/injure -- inger, was lovely and to -- was to increase our reliance on nuclear energy. an evacuation would be a disastrous blow. but with so many lives at stake, priorities were temporarily in a reprieve.
4:20 pm
while the white house was coping with the logistics of a possible evacuation, the governor of pennsylvania was facing an equally menacing problem. rumors were everywhere. and there was a good chance people might panic. >> you could see in the people's faces that you talked to, and the fact that the streets were barren. it really was a situation i have never experienced before, which people were fleeing literally, the city. >> about 25 or 30 reporters burst through the doors of my office and said, what the hell is going on, we have to know -- we want to know if we have to get out of here. narrator: by the weekend, it had reached a point where something dramatic had to be done to calm the fears of people near the plant. it was in this climate that the president decided to go to three mile island. >> this is your option. 1:30, the motorcade arrives at
4:21 pm
the main gate. 1:35, you might have to wait. >> avoid the exposure. >> the bubble is approximately 20 feet in diameter. scientists are concerned that the 600 degree temperature could be hot enough to detonate the bubble. >> the president came to the plant for one very simple reason, to assure the people that if the president of the united states and the governor of pennsylvania were standing there together right at the plant site, that obviously, there was no reason to believe that the whole thing was going to blow up at any minute. obviously, that would reassure the population that we are going to have plenty of advanced warning if we have to get out of here. >> back to middletown, the president praised local officials. then, without actually using the
4:22 pm
word, referred to what everyone here has been talking about for days, evacuation. president carter: i would like to say to the people that live around the three mile island plant that if it does become necessary, your governor, governor thornburgh, will ask you and others in the area to take appropriate action to ensure your safety. if he does, i want to urge that these instructions be carried out calmly as they have been in the past few days. >> reactor number two sent more radioactive gas into the atmosphere today, and those omissions are expected to continue. nuclear specialists still haven't found a way to eliminate the dangerous bubble without running at least some risk of a core meltdown. >> just the anxiety on everyone's faces and the questions that were asked were not technical questions as much as they were, is it safe?
4:23 pm
should i leave? narrator: as harold denton points out, there were days last month when it was frightening to be in harrisburg. it was like being next to a volcano about to erupt. denton was the man on the spot. his job was not only to tame the reactor, but to answer our questions. and not just from reporters gathered here, but questions that many of us living next to -- living near power plants started to ask. the experts had told us it was next to impossible for a nuclear plant meltdown. now, there was a possibility. and not even harold could reassure us that the scientists were any longer in control of their own technology. >> what about the public confidence? the public has always been willing to trust scientists. do you think that has been shaken by this incident? >> no doubt it has.
4:24 pm
before this event, we had 400 reactor years of operations with no fuel damage. this is the first, and the most serious accident in the u.s. >> is another accident of this nature inevitable? >> i think that there will not be another accident of this nature. the accidents we tend to concentrate on and designed the plan against -- the plant against are those that have not happened. we tended to concentrate on large pipe breaks. we put a lot of our effort into preventing accidents of large pipe breaks. there have been several studies that say we should focus more on different types of things, like this accident. as a result, we will go back and focus on this type of thing. but human nature will never be perfect. a large number of the errors made in the course of this accident were human errors. out of the six things went human about 4.5 were
4:25 pm
errors. >> you will always have human errors. narrator: for most people watching the drama unfold, it seemed as if harold denton and the n.r.c. were the heroes of the whole crisis. >> we hope the n.r.c. was the hero of the day in the last stage of the accident, but the nuclear regulatory commission was not the hero of the day in letting that reactor be licensed with the defects that it had. the commission was not the hero of the day in letting it continue operation with the defects that kept surfacing with small and ominous accidents, and they were not the hero of the day in getting their emergency team there three days after the accident. so they have a lot to account for. narrator: it wasn't until three mile island that we started to realize how vulnerable nuclear power plants are. how one small incident can trigger a major accident.
4:26 pm
at the plant in alabama in 1975, a plumber's pipe set fire to some wires. the fire spread. system after system fell, until $150 million worth of damage had been inflicted. some said the reactor stood on the very edge of a meltdown. last year alone, the n.r.c. files revealed 2835 incidents which it terms violation of commission rules, or threats to public safety, and three mile island in that same year, 10 separate failures in the core cooling system. it was a combination of small incidents that led to the accident last month. from the n.r.c. tapes, roger madsen. >> let me say, bringing this plant down is risky. there is not negligible risk in bringing this plant down. no plant has ever been in this condition. no plant has ever been analyzed in this condition. in the history of this program.
4:27 pm
>> well, there are 72 nuclear plants in the country right now operating. there are 120 in the pipeline somewhere under construction, and sometime between now and 10 years from now, we will have about 200 plants running, unless the program is curtailed. based on the accident experienced up to the present time, in 10 years we will have an accident like three mile island every year or two. [alarm] narrator: this is the control room at millstone unit one in connecticut. if there is an accident, the first warning would come here. everything in the reactor is controlled by a switch, a button, or a handle in this room. delicate sensors monitor conditions inside the reactor core.
4:28 pm
for every system there is a backup system. often, a backup for the backup system. but in spite of the elaborate technology, or maybe because of it, things go wrong. when that happens, an alarm sounds. alarms are part of the routine. hundreds go off every day. they can be set off by nothing more sinister than a door opening or closing. narrator: let they are there for a reason. within the nuclear industry, accidents and problems are called events. last year, millstone unit one reported to the nuclear regulatory commission 32 events that threatened safety. the reactor next door reported 34. the n.r.c. spent over 2000 hours inspecting these two plans last year, and now has a resident inspector there full-time. while unit two is being refueled, everything is checked.
4:29 pm
all safety systems are evaluated. >> so it is reset now? >> yes. >> use the switch. >> pull the upper one. >> ok. i will check back with you next week. narrator: every contingency has been planned for. at least, that was the theory until three mile island. >> is it inevitable that at some point there is a disaster? >> well, i think in any type of industry, the answer to that could be yes, but i know that there has been analysis done by people like rasmussen that have indicated that the chances or probability for such a disaster are very low. >> the millstone has been cited several times for lack of
4:30 pm
security. at one point there was a problem with the corrosion. in one of the plants. these things can happen. you are dealing with machines. machines fail. you are with human beings, and we all make mistakes. there is no failsafe system. >> that is correct, there isn't any failsafe system. but all the incidents that we had proper security at that time. >> what were the effects? -- effects to the public? >> the effects were minimal. >> do you think people shouldn't be afraid, shouldn't have any concern? >> i don't think you will ever come to a situation where people have no concern. is, how safe do you make these plants? i think they are safe, or i wouldn't be working here. i have a family that is living seven miles away. if i didn't think of the plants were safe enough to operate, i
4:31 pm
wouldn't be in this plant and i wouldn't have my family here. >> is there no danger? >> with any industrial site, there is always danger. i think the danger is minimal based on the kind of benefit you are getting from these plants. these two plants here produce 37% of the electricity in most of connecticut and the western part of massachusetts last year. so there is a significant benefit to the plant. but you can't say that these plants are entirely safe, that we are not going to have incidents where we release activity to the environment. but i think the effect on the public will be minimal. such ado you think had reaction to the incident? >> not many people in the country right now understand radiation. they understand contamination. they don't understand words like criticality, evacuation.
4:32 pm
these are normal terms the nuclear industry uses and we have to educate our people or the people out there or change our terms to reduce the fear that we ourselves put into the people. >> i think the thing that concerns a lot of people is what happens to future generations? people have this vision of mutants running around because of the radiation. >> we have been living with radiation since day one. background radiation in this area is 130 milligrams per year. in brazil, it's up to 1600. i don't expect people to wear lead shields all their life. you have to put up with danger. >> "fallout from three mile island" will continue. >> you have got 20 seconds to do
4:33 pm
your white balance. >> it had been a long week of waiting, but even before the news was confirmed, the rumors made it clear that the crisis was passed and it was up to governor thornburgh to make it official. >> mr. harold denton briefed me earlier tonight on the situation at three mile island. he told me that the hydrogen bubble had dissipated, that the reactor core is stable, and that he and his associates are considering various plans to bring a safe shutdown. we must now begin the long and perhaps more arduous task of assessing what the long-term consequences of this event will be. in that, we will need the help of every american. thank you, i will take questions. >> what about immediate concerns about their health? >> about their health? frankly, i don't know. narrator: life went back to
4:34 pm
normal for the people, no one had been hurt in the communities around the plant, no one killed. but the question lingered. >> if you had a three-year-old child, would you bring it here? would you sleep here every night for the next five months? would the president of the united states bring his family and sleep here in this town? no, he won't. >> that's the question for middletown. >> you are right. it's the first thing we would like someone somewhere to answer. do we want this plant here? >> i think that on the basis of the monitoring that has been done thus far, the data that has been made available to us, the population in general seems to be at no significant risk. narrator: surgeon general julius richmond, like most of the experts, quickly assured most of the people around three mile island they had nothing to worry
4:35 pm
about. there had been no massive exposure during the accident. but in recent years, there have been increasing concerns about low-level radiation. it's a major controversy. the experts simply don't agree on how much is too much and at what level do people have to worry about increased chances of cancer and birth defects? a nobel prize-winning biologist offered this warning. >> every dose is an overdose. every dose of radiation is an overdose. there is no threshold. a little radiation does a little harm, more of it does more harm. that's the way it is. >> edward radford, chairman of the national committee on sciences. >> the increased risk of cancer that the people have received as a result of the radiation exposure is negligible and insignificant. it is not zero.
4:36 pm
in other words, according to our current theory of radiation damage that leads to cancer, we believe that any increased exposure to radiation carries a small increased risk. on that basis, there has been a slight added risk. but it has been calculated that this might lead to one extra cancer or something of that order in the people that were exposed and this would be impossible even to detect. narrator: how good is this system for monitoring radiation around the nuclear plants in this country? this mobile laboratory arrived at 10:05 on the morning of the accident. it's job is to test soil, water, air, and food for contamination. it would be three full days before an adequate health monitoring team would be in place. three days in which the people of middletown had to rely
4:37 pm
primarily on metropolitan edison to alert them to radiation hazards caused by the plant. it's the same all over america. utility companies are usually the only ones monitoring their own radioactive leaks. dr. elven weinberg, who ran the country's first nuclear power plant in oak ridge, tennessee, offers this solution. >> the nuclear future that i envision, the people around the plant have to be educated to a degree they haven't been so far. one suggestion i find somewhat attractive is this, utility installs a meter and goes around each month to see how much electricity there is. among the houses close by, why not install radiation? i think we should train the people close by, say within the first five miles, first 10 miles. and that is part of the price i
4:38 pm
think we will eventually have to pay for nuclear energy if it is going to grow. narrator: the price of nuclear energy was being debated on another level across the country. like other plants now under construction, the south texas nuclear project had a problem of dollars and cents. it's at least two years from completion and the original cost has doubled. a $1 billion cost overrun. graham works on the project. >> it was originally $1 billion. it has increased to 1.3. presently it stands at $2 billion. some of the reasons for the cost include -- the cost increase include changes required by the government on this project. frankly we were looking at the experience of others. were we doing it over, we would probably know more about it. narrator: once we were all told that nuclear power would give us
4:39 pm
electricity that would be too cheap to meter. today, this power plant is trying to convince sponsors that austin, texas, is a city without a current energy problem. the three conventional generating plants revived twice as much electricity as the city uses. but austin was worried about future needs and in 1973 voted to spend $161 million for a 16% share in the south texas nuclear project. costcame the $1 billion overrun and the construction company's demand for $240 million to maintain their position in the project. long before harrisburg, there was a scheduled to let them decide. anti-nuclear forces started out with little hope, particularly because they believe that if austin dropped out of the nuclear plant, it would cost more money for a coal
4:40 pm
alternative. but 10 days before the election was three mile island. >> i think we ought to keep it. they're going to build it anyway. >> we ran into that reaction before. >> that's a possibility? >> that's my thinking now. >> been watching harrisburg? >> i sure have, i sure have. >> but we have that and had to pay for it. >> oh, no. we will have to put more money in. >> i know. but do you know what it will do to the country? >> that's a problem. this is not a one-sided question. >> the land. narrator: the issues in the austin election were complex, dealing with trade-offs and future energy sources. three mile island made safety a factor, but with the plant 160 miles from austin, principal concerns remained economic. >> this is radio 59 and it's time for the second part of "viewpoint."
4:41 pm
>> my first guest is for, my other guest is against the nuclear project in south texas. good afternoon, you are on "viewpoint." >> what happens if the nuke melts? >> doctor, that sounds like a question for you. >> if there should be a meltdown in the project, there would not -- there would be a repair cost. it would not change the initial cost of construction. >> that would bring up the possibility that it could have an economic effect on the area surrounding it. our cbs newscasts have been talking about people withdrawing money from the banks and the effect on real estate in the harrisburg area. >> the equipment itself would be insured and there is also liability insurance. so it would be a insurance responsibility.
4:42 pm
>> the anderson act limits liability from anyone accident to $560 million and that would not begin to pay for the devastation and the damage of the radiation and so forth that would be caused by a meltdown or one of those reactor explosions if that hydrogen bubble had burst. narrator: ironically, "the china syndrome," a film about a nuclear accident, was playing in harrisburg at the time of the three mile island accident. in austin, it became a factor. >> read about it. >> i have a hard time saying this, but i think the people should still vote for the nuclear project because we will not reap the benefits of the energy from the plant if we don't have a participation in it.
4:43 pm
>> we have invested money now and even what you see in the film, it could happen but let's be realistic. i think we should keep what we have and if i had anything to do with it, i would tell everyone to keep what we have. >> old enough to vote? >> yes, i'm voting tomorrow. >> i'm voting to keep it. >> in the movie, when they mentioned about pennsylvania, it just really opened my eyes a lot and it scared me. >> i agree with you. i think it's a terrific risk to take and i don't think we have the right to take it. >> texas governor bill clemens, a strong supporter of nuclear energy. >> what happened near harrisburg obviously had a lot of effect. >> it was unfortunate. >> it had an effect on the thinking of people here. what has it done to your thinking? >> not really anything. i would suggest to you that what happened in harrisburg was overblown. it was unfortunate. it did require some emergency measures.
4:44 pm
it's going to be very costly. but i question that the risk was ever as great as depicted as by the various forms in the media. it was sensational, certainly no question about that. but it was brought under control and i would question anyone who is going to be affected long-term as according to my scientific friends, who are knowledgeable in this area. i am for constructing a plant and i'm hopeful that tomorrow in austin's election, they will vote for the plant. [applause] >> election night. it was a close vote, the anti-nuclear forces lost as austin voted to stay in the project. the vote made it clear that anti-nuclear opposition had increased following the three mile incident. other anti-nuclear demonstrators
4:45 pm
in sweden and west germany chanted that "we are all citizens of pennsylvania." as we left austin, it seemed obvious that the fallout from three mile island had only begun. >> is it possible that you are going to have a $1 billion mosoleum a few miles away from here? >> it is precisely what we will have if it cannot be safely reactivated. the people of the area are rightfully skeptical about this facility after the incident and i share that skepticism. the burden of proof lies with those who would reactivate the facility. >> the real question is the alternative for generating electricity. there's conservation, geothermal, cold. -- geothermal, coal. nuclear provides for a diffuse public good in the sense that it generates power using fuels native to this country and at a
4:46 pm
cost that is competitive in many areas of the country. when you say shut it down, it's you use in itsd place? narrator: it's too early to assess the incident, but for us much can be seen through the experience of one of the men who had pioneered the transition from the atomic bomb atoms for peace, dr. alvin weinberg. >> sometime around the early 50's, we suddenly realized that nuclear energy, one really had what might be an exhaustible energy source. that realization hit us like a tremendous thing that all of a sudden you have confronting you the possibility of inexhaustible energy and that man's whole energy would depend upon somehow and inexhaustible energy source. ever since then i have personally and many of the people in the nuclear energy
4:47 pm
enterprise have had this idea that what they were doing was something that everybody should be immensely pleased with. that man's salvation almost depended upon our development of this inexhaustible energy source. and then here it is, 25 years later, and we turn out to be a bunch of harrys. >> are you an advocate? >> yes, but the way i put it is i believe that nuclear energy is acceptable if we fix it in certain ways. and that i think that nuclear energy needs fixing, or there is a good chance that it will not survive. narrator: fix it? in the months ahead, one senate committee after another, scientists and engineers will all be trying to make nuclear power safe, meaning safer design, more skillful
4:48 pm
management of plants, and even the siting of plants in remote areas. as the governor points out, the fallout from three mile island will continue. >> nuclear opponents that would shut down every reactor in the country tonight simply are not in touch with our needs for tomorrow. but to nuclear advocates who would pretend that nothing was changed by our vigil at three mile island are simply out of touch with reality. we sustained and continue to absorb psychological and financial injury. the extent of which may never be fully identified. they are the kinds of injuries that will live with us for years, perhaps for generations. not all the promotion in the world can erase memories of central pennsylvania as the place where the worst fear of modern man almost came to pass.
4:49 pm
[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] , 1979 -- 40ago years ago on march 28, 1979, the unit to reactor at the three mile island nuclear power plant in pennsylvania partially melted down. dick thornburgh was pennsylvania's governor at the time. 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. : our primeornburgh concern has been, is, and remains, a concern for the safety of the residents of the area, and of those workers who must carry out the responsibility of decontamination of the unit two facility. the


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on