Synthesis/Regeneration 10   (Spring 1996)

Three Mile Island: Then, Now and Next Time

by Mary Stamos Osborn, Concerned Mothers and Women of Middletown

This year marks the 17th anniversary of the nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island. Government and corporate America still insist that no one died as a result of the accident, in spite of the fact that millions of dollars have been paid in out-of-court settlements for personal injury claims. Still pending is a second round of personal injury suits that have been in litigation for the past eight years. This current case, In Re TMI Litigation Cases Consolidated II, 1: CV-88-1452 M.D. Pa. (1988) Rambo, C.J., has repeatedly been scheduled and rescheduled.

Located 10 miles south east of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna river, nestled in a beautiful, fertile valley, you'll find jutting out of the earth like a behemoth, the Three Mile Island nuclear facility (looking like a deformed fetus from the air or from a map). The "mothballed" Unit II reactor, damaged and still contaminated, sits adjacent to Unit I . Our government allowed TMI-1 to resume operations after a long, bitter battle was fought by many citizens to "keep it shut." Problems plagued TMI-2 from conception. Originally planned for the Oyster Creek, New Jersey site, union problems and payola demands led the owners, Metropolitan Edison and General Public Utilities, to build in central Pennsylvania instead. Problems continued; with union strikes, faulty concrete pours, delays and cost overruns. Finally on March 28, 1978, TMI Unit II went critical for the first time. Ten months later, on December 30, 1978, just in time for millions of dollars in tax breaks, and in spite of continuing serious problems, Unit II went into commercial operation.

Chronology of the Accident

According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) report, NUREG-0600, the following sequence of events took place:

Early Wednesday morning, March 28, 1979 (one year to the day of initial criticality), it started with resin blockage in the transfer line (a pipe transferring river water to be filtered through the resin beads, used for coolant), a total loss of feed water, and a trip (automatic shutdown) of the turbine at 04:00:37 a.m. Eight seconds later the reactor automatically tripped, lost pressure, and a valve failed to close (allowing coolant water to escape). There was a rise in the pressurizer level that went off-scale "indicating that the pressurizer was completely filled with water" (a condition known as "going solid").

The situation deteriorated; the reactor core was uncovered about 2 and 1/2 hours into the accident resulting in fuel damage. This was a loss of coolant accident (LOCA). NRC headquarters was notified of the reactor scram about 7:30 a.m., three hours after it occurred. Children were outdoors, waiting for school buses or walking to school. The helicopters began air monitoring for radioactivity about 4:30 p.m. By now, children were outdoors playing after school.

Thursday, March 29, 1979: Children were outdoors, waiting for school buses or walking to school; they also had gone outdoors for recess. A 3,000 millirem per hour radiation reading was reported in NUREG-0600, months after the fact, but was not reported to the public. We were told to close our doors and windows, and to turn off any ventilation systems.

Friday, March 30, 1979: This morning children were once again outdoors waiting for school buses or walking to school as "uncontrolled" radiation releases were reported—1200 millerems were detected over the stacks. [I believe releases were deliberate, since enormous amounts of hydrogen were created and building up in the containment due to the chemical reaction of the zirconium-clad fuel rods, water and extremely hot temperatures. There was genuine concern for catastrophe; a possibility of contaminating an area the size of Pennsylvania, as in the report by Rasmussen, called WASH 1400.] Sirens and church bells were alarming by 9:30 a.m. Sometime that morning an unknown person activated the emergency sirens in downtown Harrisburg. By noon, governor Richard Thornburgh reluctantly advised "...pregnant women and pre-school children within a 5 mile radius of Three Mile Island, to evacuate." Thornburgh (had been) advised by NRC Chairman Joe Hendrie to call for a ten mile evacuation.

Sunday, April 1, 1979: This was the weekend of the "hydrogen bubble" scare. President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter went on site and into the control room, wearing little yellow plastic booties and thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs), or radiation badges, and potassium iodide was administered to a select few.

It Gets Even Worse, Thanks to the Authorities!

Murphy's Law ruled inside the TMI-2 facility throughout the days of the accident as the actions and/or inactions of plant personnel ... wreaked harm to the surrounding biosphere. In order to prevent more damage to the reactor and to alleviate the mounting pressure of the bubble, those in charge deliberately "burped" and "vented" the hydrogen gas bubble (as well as radioactive gases and particulates—alpha, beta, gamma) through the vents, stacks and the unfiltered atmospheric dumps. Reactor coolant water, by now equivalent to reprocessing grade, was dumped into the river; and that radioactivity escaped into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, communities downstream continued to use river water for drinking and bathing.

Administrative Law Hearings were held before the biased, industry lackey, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. Citizens and local anti-nuclear groups tried to prevent the restart of the Unit I reactor which had been shut down for refueling during the accident.

During the summer of 1980, in what a sane person would categorize as an act of terrorism, the federal government permitted Met-Ed to release more poisons into the environment. The venting of 57,000 curies of krypton and other radioactive gases and particulates from the containment buildings was devastating. Local people were stunned. How could their government allow this exposure to their own citizens, again? A timely petition was filed to prevent this; the Court denied the delay of venting, but said they would hear the issue later. The venting occurred in July. About two months later, the court ruled that a hearing should have been held and that venting should not have taken place without due process. They had used the cheapest, quickest method to "dispose" of the cumulated radioactives.

Citizens conducted their own door-to-door health surveys. The results of citizen research showed significant increases in cancers, thyroid disease, neonatal and newborn mortality, Downs syndrome, multiple sclerosis, allergies and immune system disorders, as well as other illnesses.

The accident at TMI was not a one-day, one-week or one-month accident. Burps and puffs of radioactive gases and particulate continued to leak throughout the cleanup of the accident. The river dumping stopped, except for "accidental spills."

By the time citizens got radiation monitoring networks in place, most of the hazardous cleanup was over. With Unit II in mothballs and most of the radioactive poisons removed, elevated readings continue to be reported and documented around Three Mile Island.

Citizens Respond: Realize Democracy Dead

Citizens conducted their own door-to-door health surveys. The results of citizen research showed significant increases in cancers, thyroid disease, neonatal and newborn mortality, Downs syndrome, multiple sclerosis, allergies and immune system disorders, as well as other illnesses. And, if you knew how to read the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDOH) reports, which most of the news media did not (and still do not), you'd realize that in spite of press releases stating there were no cancer increases, there clearly were! The same app lies to pregnancy outcome studies. Birth defects increased and so did complications of pregnancy. The PDOH blamed low apgar scores for newborns and low birth weight babies on mothers: "...they smoked, they drank, they took tranquilizers."

Fundraising was ongoing; letters and grant requests were mailed, petitions were signed all over the country, bake sales, raffles, concerts were held. Money was needed to pay for the hearing costs, office expenses and distribution of vital information via newsletters.

Hundreds of people donated thousands of hours of their time, putting once-normal lives on hold. A non-binding referendum resulted in an overwhelming vote for no restart; non-violent civil disobedience actions blocked the gates of TMI. In spite of the vote, in spite of the will and wishes of the people in this democratic society, TMI was allowed to restart by our government.

This was a very unpleasant education. We learned many things because of this accident and this restart: the crucial filters that trapped identifiable types and quantities of radioactivity were reported missing; the radiation monitors that went off-scale were only able to detect minimum levels; the utility that repeatedly mis-calibrated its monitors (also the Environmental Protection Agency's monitors) never recalculated doses; the control room operators who cheated on exams before and after the accident; the failure to enter employees' whole body dose radiation counts on their records (because computer operators had to override the system and enter those whole body counts as extremity doses instead); the 1976 pre-TMI accident background radiation maps which were revised and replaced with a newer version reflecting the increase of the background radiation after the accident. Aside from all that, there were the lies.

The lies

They began day one with Jack Herbein of Metropolitan-Edison, and continuing with the Pennsylvania Departments of Health, Environmental Resources and Agriculture, as well as federal agencies, particularly the NRC staff and commissioners. The staff lied about the severity of the accident and to the Commissioners about the "falsification of leak rates" (the rate coolant water was leaking from the reactor—which was a federal criminal offense and for which Met-Ed was found guilty). [We have a corporate felon operating a nuclear power plant.] Furthermore, an NRC inspector knew about the violations of the leak rates of reactor coolant water for one half year leading up to the accident.

Joyce said to the NRC as she raised her fist, "...but we don't have hypothetical children!"

The issue of the harm caused by psychological stress went all the way to the US Supreme Court. The Court ruled against our case as the Justices expounded on comparisons such as the fear of living near an noisy airport or a halfway house or having fluoride put into public water. They never once considered the crucial next step—that of actual harm from a plane crashing into a home; or of a parolee going berserk and killing a neighbor; or of an overdose of fluoride in the water making an entire city sick. It was all hypothetical to them, not the reality the accident was to us. Joyce Corradi , a mother of five, runs a day care center in Middletown. Joyce said to the NRC as she raised her fist, "...but we don't have hypothetical children!"

We voted in May of 1982 to keep TMI shut down. It restarted. The ongoing crisis in Democracy in central Pennsylvania ended in disaster as a result of that accident. The Manhattan Project actually began the death of Democracy in America. Secrecy. Radioactivity. It took the TMI accident to realize that gut-wrenching reality. Democracy died. Not just for the people of Three Mile Island, but for each and every one of us.

Deformed Deer and Daisies, Human Tragedy

Another kind of death, one we can not resurrect, is the death of friends, neighbors or loved ones.

Bill Whittock still lives on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, in Goldsboro facing Three Mile Island. The loud roar of the reactor scram woke him in the early hours during the accident. He had a metallic taste that day, later developed skin cancer, and his wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. I have found many plant abnormalities in his yard.

A farmer from Zions View, Marie Holowka, was doing chores around 4:00 a.m. the morning of the accident. She felt the earth move, got choked by a strange blue fog, and fell to the ground. She checked the local radio station. Nothing. No earthquake. She checked the Philadelphia station. They reported there was an accident at Three Mile Island, just a few miles away from the Holowkas' farm . Marie, developed a sore throat that day and became very ill for the next few weeks. Soon after, she was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder. Then breast cancer. Then cancer around the heart. She died seven years later.

During the accident they lost many cows. According to her brother, Paul, so many cattle died on area farms after the accident, that "the animal rendering truck that used to come around only when called (not even once a year), started coming around every week to pick up dead cattle." Guinea fowl could not hatch their eggs.

On a visit to their farm, writer Joyce Maynard and I were shown huge jars containing malformed animal organs, well preserved. When Japanese photojournalist Hiro Toyosaki interviewed the Holowkas, Paul showed us deer with antlers growing down into the face, not curved up and graceful as normal racks. In their garden I found deformed daisies.

Herb Myers of New Cumberland had many problems on his farm right after the accident, problems similar to those of other farmers in the area. His sheep could not give birth; they could not dilate to deliver their young. Some died. One morning, his son went out to the barn and found a stillborn, double headed calf, which Herb later stuffed and mounted. He developed cancer and died the tenth anniversary of the accident.

Farmer Clair Hoover and his wife Ruth, of Bainbridge, lost 12 calves and 9 cows shortly after the accident. Some of the animals were taken to New Bolton Center Lab in order to find out the cause of death. The results never came. Neither did the bill. They learned the state had paid that bill. Other tests conducted showed their cattle were found to have elevated white blood counts (the eosinophils). Coincidentally a group of doctors at Hershey Medical Center also found their patients had elevated eosinophil counts.

The milk company told them to quit talking about their problems with the animals or they would not buy milk from them.

In 1985, the Hoovers and their children received out of court settlements again against TMI (Metropolitan-Edison) for over $200,000.00 for personal injury. In August of 1993, I called to see if Ruth and Clair would be willing to be interviewed by journalist and author, Ryuichi Hirokawa (also chairman of Chernobyl Children Fund in Tokyo). Ruth hesitated, and softly said she would have to ask Clair. When she came back, she told me he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor just the week before; and yes, he would like very much to talk.

From my notes of August 12, 1993: The Hoovers are Mennonites; the church asked them to stop talking. The milk company told them to quit talking about their problems with the animals or they would not buy milk from them. Out of 100 cows, 27 died or had a problem—the ones that were pastured. Most calves died. The cows that were in the barn were okay. Their St. Bernard dog and pony died days ... [later] due to respiratory problems. Helicopters flew over their farm and someone always (showed up) to take away a dead animal. One time they hid a dead calf, and had their vet autopsy it before the NRC could get it. They also hid the remains. It had a damaged liver, and lungs that never opened. McDonald's bought the cows at auction. The government bought the cows from McDonald's. (The Hoovers) found this out when inquiring why checks were not received. Clair also said farmers from Adams county, in the southern part of the state, came to see them because they were also having problems with their animals.

Young Mark Corradi of Shopes Gardens in Middletown, found dozens of deformed dandelions in the field near his home and gave them to me. I became friends with his mother; we had much in common—deformed dandelions and neighborhoods riddled with health problems which the PA Dept. of Health refused to look into. Another friend, Jane Lee, went door to door and documented many thyroid disorders, allergies, cancers of all kinds and pregnancy problems. She reported that many people had metallic taste during the accident.

Mrs. Jean Trimmer of Lisburn, 10 miles northwest of TMI, took notes of her ordeal. On Friday evening, March 30, 1979, she heard her cat howling, went out on the front porch, and leaned over the railing to call for her cat. As she did, a wave of hot air engulfed her and she got wet from rain that just started falling. She was wearing a scarf covering most of her hair, an open neckline on her dress and short sleeves. The cat came to her and they went inside. Immediately she dried the cat and wiped herself dry. Later she started to itch. The next day she noticed a sunburn effect on her skin. The scalp area of the uncovered hair bothered her so much she went to her hairdresser, who washed and treated her hair. On Sunday, the women at church commented about her skin and her "sunburn?" Next, her hair began to fall out. Later, when it grew back in, it was "salt and pepper." Her normally black hair had new white hairs growing in. The exposed area of skin later became blotchy; she developed tiny, hard white bumps; and the moles on the side of her face were no longer brown, but flesh colored. Her kidney disintegrated. She is gravely ill now.

I happened to come by one day when Bill Kirk of the Environmental Protection Agency was there. When Mrs. Trimmer left the room, I asked him whether salt and pepper hair could result from radiation exposure. He said "yes, there is literature on the subject, rat studies." Then Mrs. Trimmer took out her notes and began to tell him (her story). (He) squirmed as she spoke. She also said that on her farm they never had problems with the animals until the accident...

Fran Cain still lives across the street from TMI, in Londonderry Township. She raised poodles at the time of the accident, but no longer does. The first doggie birth defect she ever had, occurred right after the accident. A puppy was born with no eyes. "The white cell count was higher on the poodle that gave birth to the eyeless puppy, Kelly." Penn State University did blood tests, free. Fran had the metallic taste, also. She received a large out-of-court settlement.

Bill Peters, local hero, race car driver and former justice of the peace, lived in Etters. He and his son were working in an open garage that day. By evening, both of them had reddened, burning skin, and burning throats. The next day, Bill had blisters on his nose and lips. He and his wife, Darla, kept having a burning sensation in their nose and down their throats, and an awful taste. "It just about made ya half sick," he would always say to interviewers I would bring around. He described the taste as "... burnt metal, like galvanized steel." The taste made them so thirsty, they couldn't drink enough.

On Friday, police drove by and told Bill to "get the hell inside." Bill and his family were packing; they wanted out of there, so they kept right on packing the truck. They left their cats in a sheltered porch, and one of their German Shepherds in the garage, with plenty of food and water, and windows open a bit for ventilation. About a week later, when they returned and opened the garage, they got the metallic taste again. They found their dog, dead, with eyes burnt white. There was still plenty of food, but the dog had drunk a whole lot of water. Most of the cats were dead. One had given birth, but the kittens died. Shortly after, the cat died too. About a month later, while mowing the grass, Bill found dead birds. He filled a metal drum about half full with them. On my first visit to his home, I found three clumps of huge dandelion plants at least 31" long, flower mutations, and huge tree leaves.

About a week later, when they returned and opened the garage, they got the metallic taste again. They found their dog, dead, with eyes burnt white.

The Peters filed for personal injury damages in the current, class action lawsuit. Last year, during depositions for the upcoming trial, Bill had a heart attack and died. The lawyer told me it was okay, it was at the end of his deposition, and we have Darla. [Editor's note: from Chernobyl and from an unpublished study of weapons plant workers, come evidence linking radiation exposure to heart disease.]

The 17 year old nightmare continues.

Not only did we have a meltdown with intensely hot fuel that "flowed like olive oil" and which burned a long craggy hole (19") in the 1" thick reactor lining, we just got zapped by RAMBO. Federal District judge Sylvia H. Rambo, to be more specific. The headlines in the front page of Pennsylvania Law Weekly (1/22/96), featured another kind of meltdown: "Expert 'Meltdown' Hits TMI Case." As litigators were nearing the end of the pretrial stage in the eight-year-old personal injury class action lawsuit, the judge ruled on the defendant's motion in limine and threw out most of the plaintiffs ' expert witnesses! Citing flaws such as experts' lack of expertise, lack of control samples, lack of peer review of their papers, failure to have papers published, etc., the judge discarded most of the plaintiffs' experts' testimony pertaining to the "dose of radiations emitted from TMI and allegedly received by plaintiffs.

A week later, the 1/29/96 issue of the same law journal reported that that plaintiffs' legal team had filed a motion for reconsideration, claiming that "Rambo applied new expert admissibility standards too narrowly." The article also mentioned that over 2070 plaintiffs were involved. The date set for trial is now June 1996. This accident has not been resolved; corporate government still denies harm was done to earth's living treasures.

Next time, and there will be a next time, we will not permit them to get away with murder. Learn now. It's easy to learn a little bit at a time. There was no CNN in 1979. There was no Internet or World Wide Web. Instant communication, documentation, action and interaction are crucial elements needed to prevent another crisis in Democracy.

The doomsday clock is only hiding—the ticking has never stopped. We can't prevent another accident even if there were "no more nukes." There is just too much waste and too many greedy corporations.

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