Why We Oppose the Move to Chester County
By Eric Epstein
Exelon’s relocation of Three Mile Island’s Emergency Operations Facility (EOF) and Joint Information Center (JIC) to Chester County focused on geographic and technical considerations, as well as cost savings. These are important and meaningful components of this discussion. However, it is also necessary to review the history of communication and emergency preparedness problems at Three Mile Island (TMI).
TMI-Alert opposed the relocation and consolidation of the EOFs based on history, and our belief that each nuclear plant should have a dedicated support facility in the same area as the plant. Lets take a moment and recap why we had a dedicated EOF, and remember that the chain of communications begins with the nuclear power plant's operator.
On March 28, 1979, at 4:30 p.m., Lt. Gov. William Scranton briefed the public at the Capitol: “This situation is more complex than the company first led us to believe," he told citizens that day. "We are taking more tests. And at this point, we believe there is still no danger to public health. Metropolitan Edison has given you and us conflicting information. We just concluded a meeting with company officials and hope this briefing will clear up most of your questions.”
The NRC, honkered down in D.C. and suburban Maryland, was also out of the loop. "We are operating almost totally in the blind," said NRC Chairman Joseph Hendrie in taped conversations among NRC officials; recordings which later became public. "[The governor's] information is ambiguous, mine is non-existent, and ... I don't know; it's like a couple of blind men staggering around making decisions."
On March 30, 1979, Gov. Richard Thornburgh, who was in Harrisburg, recommended an evacuation for preschool children and pregnant women living within five miles of the plant. Schools in the area closed. Out of a target population of 5,000, more than 140,000 Central Pennsylvanians fled the area.
Due to the poor communication and lack of coordination during the TMI accident , U.S. President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 112148 in December 1979. The order directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the NRC to implement Radiological Emergency Response Plans for all populations living around nuclear power plants.
As planning improved and testing increased, the folks who operated TMI still had problems making passing grades. On March 5, 1997, TMI failed an emergency preparedness drill, and agreed to pay a $210,000 fine for violations identified by the NRC – violations relating to the inadequate implementation of the plant’s emergency preparedness program.
Four years later, after a documented history of missteps in relation to emergency preparedness and communication, AmerGen made a unilateral decision to relocate the EOF without consulting officials. TMI later did a turnaround and notified the NRC that it intend to delay submitting its application seeking approval for a standardized emergency plan. One size rarely fits all.
Distance and technology cannot alter history or past poor performance. I did tour both sites, and remain convinced of the need for a dedicated support location for Three Mile Island which could assist the community during natural disasters. You cannot be over prepared to respond an emergency, and nuclear lightning can strike twice.
Eric Epstein is chairman of Three Mile Island Alert , Inc., a safe-energy organization based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded in 1977. TMIA that monitors Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island nuclear generating stations.