“…The accident did not occur within the nuclear reactor. The accident did not occur inside the reactor in the slightest. It was a feed pump connected to the turbine outside of the reactor area. Now, that was a failure of a piece of machinery and therefore it was an accident of a — with regard to — it wasn’t an accident. It was just a failure of a piece of machinery. There’s no relationship between that and what is thought of as a nuclear accident.”
~Don Curry, chief spokesman for Metropolitan Edison, working the media spin on the morning of March 28, 1979.
Twenty four hours later, under intense public pressure:
“We concede that it’s not just a little thing,” ~Don Curry
At 4:00 am on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, the worst commercial nuclear accident in the history of the United States began to unfold amidst the unsuspecting residents of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As the event progressed over the days, it became clear that Americans had serious questions about the safety of nuclear power, the ability of the government to effectively regulate the nuclear industry, and the long term affects of nuclear energy on the enviroment. Fallout from this nuclear accident, both literally and figuratively, continues to radiate throughout political, environmental, and moral concerns to this day.
It all began when a single water pump failed in Three-Mile Island’s Unit 2, a malfunction that precipitated a catastrophic chain of events in which massive amounts of radioactive matter were released into the atmosphere surrounding the facility. The ensuing widespread public panic quickly turned to outrage as residents of the area and government officials demanded answers from within a dark of cloud of misinformation and confusion. The event itself witnessed a meltdown of its own: complete communications chaos.
This week on From the Vault, we’re once again featuring the chilling documentary Accidents Will Happen, an uncompromising look at the miasma created by Three-Mile Island nuclear facility. Produced by Alan Snitow and Aileen Alfandary, this incredible piece includes actuality on ground, statements by public relations staff for the utility company, physicists, politicians, President Carter, and consumer advocates — on what actually happened and what the effects were locally and nationally. Accidents Will Happen challenged the conventional nuclear wisdom of that day, and layed the foundation for a heated debate that is still very much a part of politics today.
We’ll also hear renowned nuclear activist and Dr. Helen Caldicott weigh in on the issues of nuclear energy and global warming. Dr. Caldicott co-founded the Physicians for Social Responsibility, an organization of 23,000 doctors committed to educating their colleagues about the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear war.
From the Vault is presented as part of the Pacifica Radio Archives Preservation and Access Project.
Archival programs used in this week’s episode, Global Meltdown:
AZ0193 Moscow Press Coverage of Three Mile Island Accident / produced by William Mandel BUY NOW!!
AZ0192 Accidents Will Happen / Produced by Alan Snitow and Aileen Alfandary BUY NOW!!
SZ0018 Early Warnings: Voices from Three-Mile Island BUY NOW!!
Click here to purchase a copy of this program or learn more about and purchase copies of the historic archival recordings used within this episode. To purchase a CD copy of this program by phone, please call Pacifica Radio Archives at 800.735.0230 x 262.
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