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Subseries 7. Three Mile Island (TMI)

Scope and Content Notes:

In the early hours of Wednesday, March 28, 1979, Governor Thornburgh received a telephone call from the state director of emergency management, Colonel Oran Henderson. It was news of a problem that, in Thornburgh's words, "no governor, anywhere, had ever had to face" ( Evidence, p.112). The Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant, located in the middle of the Susquehanna River near the state's capitol, Harrisburg, had suffered an accident. Answers to the question of what precisely had happened and especially the question of what effects the accident would have for public safety were unclear. The immediate task to simply get the facts proved much easier said than done.

Governor Thornburgh, inaugurated only seventy-one days before the accident, had previously had only a "cursory briefing" from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and a passing reference to Three Mile Island (TMI) and the other nuclear power facilities in Pennsylvania. Immediately Thornburgh assembled a group of staff and other trusted associates whom he referred to as an "ad-hocracy" ( Evidence, p.113). Included were Jay Waldman, Paul Critchlow, Rick Stafford and Bob Wilburn.

The primary assignment to the ad-hocracy was to determine exactly what was happening, especially in view of the contradictory statements being issued by officials from Metropolitan Edison (the utility company), federal regulators (NRC) and other groups. Further complicating the matter, Thornburgh recalls the "self-appointed experts and dubious eyewitnesses [that] continued to feed us unsubstantiated stories about dead animals, along with exaggerated warnings and evacuation schemes" ( Evidence, 114). News of a China Syndrome potential, of a possible need for evacuation of thousands of persons within five or even ten miles of TMI, and of the delay in ascertaining the facts was a challenge beyond description to the Governor and his administration.

Ultimately, with the invaluable assistance of Harold Denton and his team from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the facts ascertained that "while some of the reactor fuel heated to the point of melting, a disastrous 'meltdown' was never close to occurring. Detectable amounts of radiation escaped into our air, water and even milk, but these amounts were limited enough that their impact, if any, on public health remains debatable to this day. And a massive evacuation of the up to 200,000 people residing in the area, with its potential for panic, injury and even loss of life, would have been far more dangerous and damaging than was the accident itself" ( Evidence, p. 112). Subsequent evaluations of the handling of the accident praised Governor Thornburgh and, for example, "Neal Pierce, in a later piece entitled 'Pennsylvania's Thornburgh: Extraordinary Governor,' took note of the Thornburgh style - the calm, deliberate method he brought to Three Mile Island and now applies to virtually every problem" ( Evidence, p. 123).

A significant TMI 25th Anniversary program was held at the National Museum of American History on March 26, 2004. The attendant exhibit and much technical information is available on their website. Also, the C-Span Video Library regarding Three Mile Island documents the entire event from that date including remarks of Governor Thornburgh and the other panelists.

The files included in this section were collected both during and after the accident to monitor, document and assess the facts of the accident and its implications on public health, energy concerns, cleanup needs and costs, and effects on the Pennsylvania economy. All of this material is in a general chronological order within ten separate sections, much of it is annotated by both Governor and staff. Researchers must note that there is substantial material relating to Three Mile Island (TMI) contained elsewhere in the collection, such as in the Press Secretary files, Office of Policy Development files (OPD), General Counsel files, in addition to files of the Governor and his staff. Of particular interest will be the videos of the early press conferences, and audio items, all available here online. The types of materials in the files include, for example: memoranda, news clippings, news releases, correspondence, reports, topic background, wire stories from the early days of the accident, press statements and advisories, transcripts of news conferences, public statements by the Governor and others, reports on the future of nuclear energy, staff and cabinet notes and drafts, and emergency and evacuation plans. The research potential for this TMI topic is huge.

The TMI files are divided into ten sections as follows: 1) Daily chronological files March 28-April 8, 1979; 2) "The Accident," March-November, 1979, including materials from NRC, the Pennsylvania Commission on TMI, the Pennsylvania House Select Committee, and United States Senate Subcommittees; 3) Early news wires from Associated Press and United Press International, and news clippings, March-September, 1979; 4) News releases, transcripts and statements by Thornburgh and Scranton, 1979-1985; 5) Staff and TMIA files, 1980-1985; 6) Reports: NRC's Rogovin Report, and Governor Thornburgh's Cleanup Plan, 1981; 7) President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI), also known by the chairman's name, Kemeny, a group of files from 1979 which consist largely of depositions, testimony, public hearing proceedings, and a final report; 8) Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), whose files consist of investigation information and Harold Denton's news conference transcripts; 9) "Governor's Commission to Study and Evaluate the Consequences of the Incident at Three Mile Island" (TMI), files that are kept in chronological order, April 1979-1982, and document various topics related, directly or indirectly, to Three Mile Island (TMI), from Reports of the Commission's Legal Subcommittee to reports of similar nuclear concerns at the Peach Bottom nuclear plant facility, also in Pennsylvania; 10) "Ad-hocracy committee" member, Robert C. Wilburn's Three Mile Island files, arranged chronologically, 1979-1980. His specific task was to investigate what emergency actions and plans were in place for any kind of large-scale crisis, and which, in this case, would have been needed in a mass evacuation.

Section: Chron files, March 28-April 8, 1979

Box 194
Folder 1-12 March 28-April 8, 1979
Folder 13-14 Chronological work file of Governor Thornburgh (annotated) March-May, 1979
Folder 15 Press Office memoranda to Capitol correspondents regarding statements by officials involved in Three Mile Island (TMI) March 30-April 9, 1979

Section: The Accident, March-November, 1979

Folder 16 Agriculture Department April-May, 1979
Folder 17 Department of Community Affairs April, 1979
Folder 18 Department of Education, Report of Daily Events March 28-April 5, 1979
Folder 19 Department of Environmental Resources (DER) March-June, 1979
Folder 20 Governor's Action Center, role during Three Mile Island (TMI) crisis March-April, 1979
Folder 21 Health Department March-September, 1979
Folder 22 Insurance Department May, 1979
Folder 23 Military Affairs March-April, 1979
Folder 24 Pennsylvania State Police: 20-mile radius evacuation plan April 17, 1979

Box 195
Folder 1 Pennsylvania Commission on Three Mile Island April, 1979
Folder 2 Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) April, 1979
Folder 3 Public Utility Commission (PUC) March-April, 1979
Folder 4 Federal assistance April-July, 1979
Folder 5 Hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Washington, D.C. April 4, 1979
Folder 6 Governor Thornburgh's testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Nuclear Regulation of the Committee on Environment and Public Works April 23, 1979
Folder 7 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) April-November, 1979
Folder 8 Pennsylvania House Select Committee on TMI April-May, 1979
Folder 9 State Legislature, correspondence from Representatives regarding emergency preparedness plan, Three Mile Island (TMI) task force formulation and requests for federal aid March-May, 1979
Folder 10 Congressional correspondence to Governor Thornburgh regarding radiation effects and possible area evacuation April, 1979
Folder 11 General correspondence March-June, 1979
Folder 12 General Public Utilities Corporation (GPU) April-August, 1979

Section: News wires, and news clippings, March-September, 1979

Folder 13 UPI news wires, originals March 30, 1979
Folder 14 AP news wires, originals March 30, 1979
Folder 15 Governor Thornburgh's personal set of news wire stories (annotated) March 28-April 6, 1979
Folder 16-17 News wires March 31-September 28, 1979

Box 196
Folder 1-4 Governor's Press Office Clippings March 28-April 27, 1979
Folder 5 New York Times clippings April 1-9, 1979

Section: News releases, transcripts and statements by Governor Thornburgh and Lieutenant Governor Scranton, 1979-1985

Folder 6-7 1979-1980
Folder 8 Binder prepared for Governor Thornburgh's testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Senate Subcommittee on Nuclear Regulation of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Washington DC October 20, 1981
Folder 9 1981
Folder 10 Lowell Briggs interview with Governor Thornburgh on Three Mile Island (TMI) March 19, 1981
Folder 11-14 1982-1985

Section: Staff and Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA), 1980-1985

Box 197
Folder 1-4 News clippings, correspondence, news releases and reports 1980-1982
Folder 5 World's Fair, "Energy Turns the World," Knoxville, TN, request for usage and release of Governor Thornburgh's comments on PBS program "National Nuclear Debate" 1982
Folder 6-8 News clippings, correspondence, news releases and reports 1983-1985
Folder 9 Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA), correspondence and news releases June, 1980

Section: NRC (Rogovin) and Cleanup Plan Reports, 1980-1981

Box 198
Folder 1 "Three Mile Island (TMI): A report to the Commissioners and to the Public" by the Rogovin Special Inquiry Group of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) January 24, 1980
Folder 2 "Governor Dick Thornburgh's Proposal to Finance the Cleanup of Three Mile Island (TMI)," includes "Digest of Reactions" to proposal July 9, 1981

Section: President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (Kemeny), 1979

Folder 3 Correspondence, transcripts, news releases and notes 1979
Folder 4 Jay Waldman's (JCW) testimony before President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) April 26, 1979
Folder 5 Official transcript of proceedings, Public Hearing August 2, 1979
Folder 6 Deposition of Governor Thornburgh for the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (held in Governor's office) August 17, 1979
Folder 7 Governor Thornburgh's testimony and transcript of proceedings, Public Hearing of President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) August 21, 1979
Folder 8-9 "The Need For Change: The Legacy of Three Mile Island (TMI)," Report of the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI); does not include Supplemental Views chapter October, 1979

Box 199
Folder 1 Supplemental Views chapter to "The Need For Change: The Legacy of Three Mile Island (TMI)," Report of the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) October, 1979
Folder 2 "The Need For Change: The Legacy of Three Mile Island," Report of the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (TMI), includes Supplemental Views chapter October, 1979

Section: United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), 1979

Folder 3 Investigation into the March 28, 1979 Three Mile Island (TMI) accident by the Office of Inspection and Enforcement August, 1979
Folder 4 Harold Denton news conference transcripts April 2-3, 1979

Section: Governor's Commission to Study and Evaluate the Consequences of the Incident at Three Mile Island (TMI), 1977-1982

Folder 5 Executive order and memos April-October, 1979
Folder 6 Legal aspects of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident, report of the Legal Subcommittee, Harrisburg, PA December, 1979
Folder 7 "Report of the Governor's Commission on Three Mile Island" February 26, 1980
Folder 8 Department of Environmental Resources (DER) Bureau of Radiological Health Plan for Nuclear Power Generating Station Incidents September, 1977
Folder 9 State/Metropolitan Edison Radiation Emergency Interface Plan ca. 1974
Folder 10 Arnold, Larry, "Tomorrow's Disaster at Three Mile Island (TMI)," Harrisburg magazine August, 1978
Folder 11 Three Mile Island (TMI) related letters of thanks and commendation 1979
Folder 12 Peach Bottom Nuclear Plant incident June, 1979
Folder 13 Pennsylvania House of Representatives Select Committee's Report of the hearings concerning Three Mile Island (TMI) January 18, 1980
Folder 14 Administration report to House Select Committee on Three Mile Island (TMI) regarding Three Mile Island (TMI) resolutions June 3, 1980
Folder 15 Major news stories, one year later March, 1980
Folder 16 Governor's Energy Council: Pennsylvania Energy Policy and Summary July, 1981

Box 200
Folder 1 Three Mile Island (TMI) articles and pamphlets 1979-1982
Folder 2 Nuclear energy articles and pamphlets undated

Section: Three Mile Island (TMI) files of Robert C. Wilburn, 1979-1981

Folder 3 Bob Wilburn's notes April, 1979
Folder 4-11 March, 1979-1981
Folder 12 Congressional Task Force on Three Mile Island (TMI), memo September 18, 1980

Section: TMI Cleanup [New Material Added]

Box 1009
Folder 1 TMI Briefing Book (1 of 4), July 1981
Folder 2 TMI Briefing Book (2 of 4), July 1981
Folder 3 TMI Briefing Book (3 of 4), July 1981
Folder 4 TMI Briefing Book (4 of 4), July 1981
Folder 5 TMI Cleanup: memos and reports, January-July 1981
Folder 6 TMI Cleanup: memos and reports, August-December 1981
Folder 7 TMI correspondence and editorials (1 of 3), 1981
Folder 8 TMI correspondence and editorials (2 of 3), 1981
Folder 9 TMI correspondence and editorials (3 of 3), 1981
Folder 10 TMI cleanup: Benko re NARUC, November 1981-March 1982
Folder 11 TMI cleanup: Benko re NARUC, 1982
Folder 12 TMI cleanup, 1982-1986
Folder 13 GPU Chronology, March 1979-October 1982