NRC, Nuclear Safety Expert Butt Heads

Below is a letter to the editor of Suffolk Life, written in 2005 by Diane Screnci, Public Affairs Officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The letter claims to clarify the facts published in an article on the Three Mile Island accident of 1979. 

Following that letter is a recent response to it from David Lochbaum, Nuclear Safety Engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists. 





WASHINGTON, D.C. 20555-000


March 21, 2005 

Letter to the Editor, Suffolk Life (Amityville Edition) 

There are numerous inaccuracies in your editorial of February 16, “The Big Lie Continues,” that 

I would like to correct and set the record straight.  First, the “hearing concerning the extension of 

the 10-mile” emergency planning zone around the Millstone nuclear plant” was a meeting that 

was held on January 11 in Waterford, Conn., on an environmental impact statement prepared as 

part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s review of a request to extend the license of the 

Millstone nuclear power plants in Connecticut.  You also misstated that I was there, while in 

fact, I spoke with your reporter over the telephone from my office in King of Prussia, Pa. 

With regard to the accident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 on March 28, 1979, it was the most 

serious in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history; however, it led to no deaths or 

injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community.  There was no explosion, so we 

cannot confirm your assertions that a door was badly damaged by an explosion during the 

accident.  It is also false to suggest that the plant was four seconds from a complete meltdown or 

that a janitor played any prevention role.  

Your recounting of the limited evacuation that was ordered at TMI is greatly exaggerated.  The 

Governor ordered an evacuation of pregnant women and pre-school age children living within 

five miles of the plant when he believed conditions warranted.  Approximately 144,000 people 

within a fifteen-mile radius of the plant evacuated at some point during the crisis, more than half 

of them on one day.  This is less than one quarter of the number of evacuees that you reported. In 

addition, we cannot find any reports of a two-day traffic gridlock, nor do we know of a six-lane 

highway within 50 miles of TMI in 1979 or today. Regarding fatalities from Chernobyl, 31 people died soon after the accident, according to the 

latest report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. 

You incorrectly reported “hundreds of people were killed.” 

The job of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is to ensure the safe use of  nuclear materials, 

including nuclear power. We believe that the public also deserves to know the facts.   


Diane Screnci 

Sr. Public Affairs Officer 

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Region I 



Hello Diane:


I came across your letter dated March 21, 2005, to the Editor of Suffolk Life (Amityville Edition) posted - of all places - on the "For the Record" section of the NRC website. The five paragraphs on this single page ends with the sentence "We believe that the public also deserves to know the facts."


Curious ending to a letter that tramples over facts.


For example, the second paragraph represents as fact that "There was no explosion" during the Three Mile Island accident. Attached for your information is a graph that appeared in several NRC and governmental reports on the accident. It shows the pressure inside containment as a function of time on the day of the accident. Pressure stayed below 4 pounds per swaure inch gauge (psig) except for a high, brief spike around ten hours into the event. That pressure spike occurred when the hydrogen collecting inside containment ignited. In NUKESPEAK, it was called a "hydrogen burn." To the rest of the people on the planet, it was an explosion.


The fact-trampling continued in the third paragraph. You stated, "The Governor order an evacuation of pregnant women and pre-scholl age children living within five miles ...". In fact, the Governor did no such thing. The NRC's own fact sheet on TMI (attached) says that the Governor advised --- not ordered --- an evacuation. This fact sheet is posted on the NRC website at:


Believe me when I write that you can't believe everything you read on the NRC website, but I confirmed this NRC account by watching last night a filmed press conference where the Governor announced his advisory. He made no such order.


It troubles me that an effort purportedly aimed at setting the record straight fell so short of that goal. The public does indeed deserve to know the facts. They won't find them in your letter.




Dave Lochbaum

Nuclear Safety Engineer

Union of Concerned Scientists

1707 H Street NW Suite 600

Washington, DC 20006-3962

(202) 223-6133 (office)

(202) 331-5430 (direct line)