Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Memories Return

The headline on Christian Science Monitor today said it quite clearly:

Japan nuclear crisis eclipses Three Mile Island, nears 'Chernobyl league'

March 28, 1979; 4:00 am.

I was fast asleep within 15 miles of Three Mile Island. I knew its steam plume well. Little did I know that a stuck valve was about to become one of the scariest weekends in my life, rivaling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

As events have been tragically unfolding in Japan this past weekend I had eerie echoes of TMI. That hydrogen gas that exploded in Japan's reactors sounded a lot like the "hydrogen bubble" in the middle of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. At the time we knew it was serious. Looking back today it becomes clear how serious it could have become.

Fortunately in Pennsylvania, the worst never happened. We are still not sure what that would be in Japan today. We do know Chernobyl, however, and that makes it even scarier. Experts here are saying it couldn't happen here. But neither could Three Mile Island. And neither could the ones in Japan.

A Curious Sidelight: Wikipedia has the following bit from the TMI incident.
The accident at the plant occurred 12 days after the release of the movie The China Syndrome, which featured Jane Fonda as a news anchor at a California television station. In the film, a major nuclear plant failure almost happens while Fonda's character and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) are at a plant producing a series on nuclear power. She proceeds to raise awareness of how unsafe the plant is. Coincidentally, there is a scene in which Fonda's character speaks with a nuclear safety expert, who says that a meltdown could render an area "the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable."
The movie was showing in a local theater and I am told those in the audience that weekend let out a strangled gasp as they thought of the reactor just up river- in Pennsylvania with them.

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