Standing before the giant cooling towers at Three Mile Island (TMI), first Jesse Jackson and later Walter Mondale declared their unequivocal opposition to the restart of TMI-1. This is the so-called undamaged nuclear reactor twin to TMI-2 which had the industry’s most serious accident five years ago. Unlike Gary Hart’s waffling on this question in Harrisburg, Jackson and Mondale were in support of the overwhelming majority of people in central Pennsylvania who want both reactor units at TMI kept permanently closed.
General Public Utilities. (GPU) is the utility responsible for the staggering mismanagement, cover-ups and persistent stubbornness which has continued to disgrace the conditions at TMI. Still remaining as GPU’s top management are Board Chairman William Kuhns and President Herman Dieckamp, a status that has troubled Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Victor Gilinsky. He notified the other four commissioners year that he would not consider voting for any restart of TMI-2 until GPU’s top executives were fired or resigned.
Gilinsky described “a company management with a narrow and grudging conception of its public responsibilities, which seeks to get by with the minimum, be it in terms of plant equipment, or of staff discipline and training. or of forthrightness with public authorities.”
In February GPU’s subsidiary pleaded guilty to federal prosecutors’ charges that it falsified leak-rate reports in the month’s preceding the March 28th, 1979 accident. Had these reports been accurate the plant would have been shut down for repair, thereby, avoiding the near meltdown. At the same time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff, usually very permissive of GPU’s malpractices, cited the company for a dozen violations of technical specifications at the “undamaged” TMI -1 reactor.
“Undamaged” is a word used in a relative sense to the crippled TMI-2. For example, NRC’s chief regulatory, Harold Denton calls the TMI-1 steam generator tube damage the worst case among all the nuclear power plants in the country. The list of derelictions is lengthy — inadequate emergency evacuation plans and fire safety systems, breakdowns in handling radioactive waste, poor training of personnel and harassment of conscientious employees.
The respected Union of Concerned Scientists UCS) reports. that the critical pilot operated relief valve has still not been made ‘safety grade. The valve’s failure was centrally involved in the loss of coolant water during the 1979 accident.
To make matters worse, GPU had told the NFL: that it plans to deliberately vent radioactive steam to the environment to avoid even greater uncontrolled releases. UCS observes that the options of designing the plant to make such releases unnecessary was rejected by GPU. The company also does riot intend to make key engineering changes recommended by NRC staff in 1979 until a year or more after restart.
In spite of objections by many Pennsylvania government officials, including Governor Richard Thornburgh and members of Congress, the NRC plans to decide on reopening TMI-1 even before significant safety issues are resolved. Earlier this year the majority of NRC commissioners voted to drop the management integrity” issue from the list of factors they would take into account before making their decision.
But the competence and responsibility of GPU’s management are the crucial factors. If any, unincorporated performed as GPI executives performed, he or she would have been replaced immediately. Why the immunity when the misfeasance is compounded?
GPU should be dissolved as a corporate entity and its board of directors and top executives dismissed. A new corporate entity should replace GPU with new leadership. If company can’t pay its creditors, it can be forced into bankruptcy. GPU has not paid its debts if respect for the health and safety rights of millions of people exposed to its cutting of safety corners which led to the near catastrophe and persist in plaguing the power plants and surrounding Pennsylvania counties.
In the crowd surrounding Walter Mondale’s appearance at TM-1, there was a sign saying “never again”. It would be more appropriate for the NRC to make their fateful June decision in Harrisburg right in front of the people effected then to decide in some cloistered office in Washington.