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Nuclear Power Industry Quietly Marks 35th Anniversary of TMI Disaster

(Reporters cover Pres. Jimmy Carter's visit to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979.  File photo)

(Reporters cover Pres. Jimmy Carter’s visit to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979. File photo)

(Capitol dome, Harrisburg, Pa.   File photo) Tony Romeo
  Tony Romeo is Harrisburg bureau chief for KYW Newsradio...
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By Tony Romeo

THREE MILE ISLAND, Pa. (CBS) — It was exactly thirty-five years ago today that the world was riveted on events unfolding on an island near Harrisburg where officials were just beginning to deal with the worst commercial nuclear power plant accident ever in the United States.

“State police in Harrisburg have been called to the Three Mile nuclear plant…” announced KYW Newsradio anchor  Mary Jo Melone on the historic morning of March 28th, 1979.

Over the next few days, fear — fueled by a lack of information — ran rampant in central Pennsylvania and beyond.

In a 1999 interview for the 20th anniversary of the power plant meltdown, former governor Dick Thornburgh recalled a bleak moment two days following the accident, amid unsubstantiated reports that an order to evacuate had been given:

“I’ll never forget this: I was in my office in the capitol building and we were trying, desperately trying, to unravel precisely from what source this supposed evacuation order had come, when a very loud siren commenced to go off in downtown Harrisburg. And I thought, ‘This is about as desperate as it can get.’ ”

Fears that a hydrogen bubble could explode the damaged reactor brought then-president Jimmy Carter to the plant to reassure residents about efforts to bring the plant to a cold and stable state.

“If we make an error, all of us want to err on the side of extra precautions and extra safety,” Pres. Carter said at the time.

Concerns about the hydrogen bubble proved to be unfounded.  Still, the Three Mile Island accident and its regulatory aftermath continues to have an impact on the nuclear power industry to this day.

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