10th Anniversary of Accident : Glow of Three Mile Island Debate Has Not Dimmed

From Associated Press

A small group of people lit candles in the dark outside the Three Mile Island power plant at 4 a.m. today, the moment the nation’s worst commercial nuclear accident began 10 years ago.

“It was an accident that changed the world as people knew it,” said organizer Gene Stilp, a Harrisburg attorney. Seven others stood by him.

In the distance, the two 350-foot concrete cooling towers of the undamaged Unit 1 reactor silently puffed white steam.

“It was not the last nuclear accident. . . . We’re out here to remind people of that,” Stilp said. The vigil ended about two hours later.


About 150 people marched outside the plant Monday. Residents nearby said that they are still angry about the accident and that they bear physical and emotional scars.

“The so-called accident at TMI was an act of violence against mankind, an act of violence against the unborn,” said Jane Lee, who lives near the plant in Etters, about 10 miles southeast of Harrisburg.

The accident began March 28, 1979, when a series of human and mechanical errors allowed the plant’s 150-ton radioactive core to lose cooling water. Half the core melted, and 20 tons of molten material raced to the bottom of the reactor before it was held in check by a remaining pool of water. Radioactive gas was released into the atmosphere over several days.

Lee scoffed at how the federal and state governments responded to the accident and their follow-up health studies that found no evidence of accident-related illnesses.


“They’re lying,” she said. “Why is it such a big, dark secret?. . . . It must be covered up for national security. With those kinds of friends, I don’t need any enemies.”

‘Note the Lessons’

Gordon Tomb, a spokesman for GPU Nuclear Corp., the utility subsidiary that operates the plant, said extra guards had been assigned to the main gate this morning. The demonstration was peaceful.

Asked about the anniversary, Tomb said, “We’re inclined to take the opportunity to note the lessons from the Unit 2 accident and remind ourselves of the importance of remembering those lessons.”