Meltdown: Three Mile Island (2022) s01e04 Episode Script


1 After my apartment was broken into, I took it that GPU and Bechtel were trying to send me a message.
I took it that they were trying to tell me to back off, or they'd take their bat to me.
There was a call from Rick that his apartment had been broken into.
And I knew there was a credibility problem with local police.
I wasn't sure that he could trust them.
And so I got in touch with the FBI, and they came onto the scene.
Whenever we talk to whistleblowers who come out of the nuclear industry, we always know that they are in danger.
But when Rick Parks comes forward about the seriousness of using the polar crane, it came in the midst of all this other wrongdoing that was suddenly coming out and being exposed about possible criminal misconduct at Three Mile Island.
There were indications that the entire story about Three Mile Island, going back to the accident, was a massive cover-up by the company and the NRC.
And so Rick's allegation became part of that much bigger story that could kill the nuclear industry.
The FBI had explained that there was continued investigation into the accident, and they wanted me to answer questions to help them understand the full story.
But the first question I asked was, "Should I get my sons out of here?" He said, "Considering what you're getting ready to go through, I think it'd be a good idea.
" And that convinced me that I was walking in dangerous grounds.
It was a very soul-searching decision to go public.
I have fears like everybody.
But I didn't have a choice.
If that crane fell and cost the life of anybody, or resulted in an uncontrolled exposure to the general public, I could never look at the mirror again if that happened, and I didn't do anything to stop it.
And I knew that it was gonna cost me my relationship with B, because she was not gonna take a chance on harm coming to her and her kids, and she was convinced that we would all turn up dead.
And I have to say that they were valid concerns to me.
So, B went up to her mom's house in Harrisburg.
And it was a difficult breakup.
Mom explained to us things weren't gonna work out.
I was like, "Why? What's wrong?" "What happened? You guys were in love.
" And it was just "It's something that needed to be done.
" "But why?" "It needed to be done.
" I didn't really understand at that time that would probably be that'd probably be the last time I'd see Rick.
When you're faced with a decision, you have to make it.
You have to pay the consequences for the decisions you make.
So, I did.
Didn't make it easier to do, though.
That morning, with little to no sleep, I had to hand-deliver Rick's affidavit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before the vote.
At the same time, Tom held a press release.
The Government Accountability Project of the Institute for Policy Studies is proud to be representing Mr.
Richard Parks.
Parks charges Bechtel and General Public Utilities with reprisals and harassment after he and others revealed massive quality assurance violations in significant safety concerns Bechtel and General Public Utilities knew that Rick could deliver about the consequences with the polar crane, exposing the chance for a full meltdown that could take out the East Coast.
So they had a press conference to rebut.
that I'm fully confident that all activities at TMI-2 have been carried out with safety as a number one concern.
Nothing could have beat the drums more than having dueling press conferences debating over the survival of the East Coast of our country.
There's been a lot of shortcuts that are assuming some very severe risk.
The safety concerns raised by Mr.
Parks have been discussed and addressed in substantial detail.
At the same time, I delivered the affidavit to the commission.
There was a flurry of discussion amongst the commissioners, then they went into recess.
But I was worried that the commission would plow ahead and view this as just one more whistleblower.
We are alarmed that Mr.
Parks' experience mirrors that of so many other nuclear workers who have contacted us.
I'd like to turn the floor over to him to describe his experiences.
I knew safety failures at Three Mile Island, four years after the accident, would be the death knell of the nuclear industry.
All I know is that I've always been an advocate of nuclear power.
I still am, but I'm not an advocate of that type of management system.
There is no excuse in any industry, let alone the nuclear industry, when you are approached with a problem to totally ignore that problem, and try to steamroll, railroad people who bring those things to your attention.
As of right now, they have not used the polar crane? No, sir, they haven't.
Thank God.
Parks, do you expect to have your job still? Sir, I don't care.
The NRC commissioners came back into the room.
We didn't know what was gonna happen.
And then they simply gavelled the meeting closed saying, "We're not gonna allow the polar crane to proceed with cleanup operations.
" That concludes our vote.
I broke into tears.
The mission of stopping the use of the polar crane was accomplished.
We stopped 'em in their tracks.
When the story was put in the press, it became all too clear to me how momentous this issue was.
And I was extremely grateful because I knew his stance has consequences.
And thankfully Rick chose to do what was right.
I went to the NRC and told them I had received a threat.
And Lake Barrett himself told me they could find nothing wrong with the polar crane.
No, I didn't watch the press conference, but I heard about it.
How they were gonna retaliate against anybody who tells the truth, uh, and that it's corrupt, and it's not safe.
I'd never heard this, that he was run out of the industry, or anything like that.
I never heard him being said he was a whistleblower.
Maybe he is.
I don't I don't know.
I don't even know what a whistleblower is sometimes because it becomes so emotional about things.
But as far as I'm concerned, we dealt with public health and safety to get that cleanup done.
That was my focus.
Shortly after I went public, it was announced that there would be a congressional investigation, and management was furious.
I mean, they were pissed.
I moved from the apartment I was in into another house where nobody knew where I lived, because the utility had laid a bunch of people off, stopped all work, and they were blaming "Rick Parks' bullshit allegations.
" Everything would be suspended in connection with the cleanup until they finished that investigation.
The early investigations of the accident basically decided, "Yeah, this was the worst commercial accident in US history, but nobody died.
" "Let's move on.
" That's not the story of Three Mile Island.
When Rick Parks went public, the amount of wrongdoing misconduct that came out through the hearing process was extraordinary.
A federal grand jury has found that there was more than an accident at Three Mile Island.
It says that plant operators falsified safety reports, so they wouldn't have to shut down the reactors.
The indictment charges Metropolitan Edison with a pattern of criminal conduct, uh, and violations beginning sometime in 1978.
Before it was even finished construction, the company management was falsifying critical leak rate data and destroyed documents in order to keep this plant running when it should have been shut down.
Documents filed with the government show that in the months before the plant opened last December 30th, there were many malfunctions of safety systems.
One of the valves that was probably damaged as a result of leaks was the valve that stuck open.
Months before the accident, plant managers at TMI concealed leaks in the reactor's critical water-cooling system from government regulators and set the stage for disaster.
This issue of leak rate falsification I didn't pay attention to it.
I mean, I don't I don't I don't I, I do my I remember hearing about it and knowing something about it.
I didn't think that was a critical aspect of causing the accident or, or, or not.
So, I can't tell you about that.
But I'd never heard that that was that significant, but The US attorney gave a blistering attack, not only against the company for this criminal misconduct, but also against the NRC itself.
And nobody there made the slightest effort to get to the bottom of this.
The NRC is unable to provide an acceptable level of safety for the nation's nuclear power plants.
And, unfortunately, the NRC let them get away with it.
You don't interpret the rules for your benefit.
You don't falsify documents.
You don't destroy documents.
You don't operate a nuclear power plant in violation of regulations and in violation of the law.
We also found out the worst failure that put people in extreme peril.
The company intentionally lied during the first day of the accident.
Day one at 1:15 in the afternoon, there is this loud thud that everybody in that control room heard and felt.
They had released hydrogen gas into the containment.
It was like if you turn your barbecue grill on, and the gas, and you don't put the match in right away, you get a big "woof.
" Okay.
It was not an explosion.
There was no supersonic shockwave, but it was a big hydrogen burn.
It was an explosion.
 Hydrogen blows up.
And you can see the pictures, their phones are almost melted, the oil drums are completely collapsed.
Anybody that thought they didn't have fuel damage before then knew they had fuel damage after that.
The thing that most people think about this accident, is nobody understood it the first day, and they didn't know what was going on.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
After what the operators testified to, and what the investigation showed, the control room knew about the hydrogen burn that day.
And this was a severe crisis, just minutes from hundreds of thousands of people dying, the entire area of Central Pennsylvania being permanently contaminated by radiation.
But the company lawyer got a number of them to change their story, and said, "No, no, we didn't think the hydrogen burn was significant that first day.
" I didn't know it.
I'm not gonna say that there wasn't somebody who was putting two and two together at that early time.
 I don't know.
Now, some of us back a ways, when we heard later, we knew exactly what that was, but it didn't get into the analysis system to the right people in the control room to understand it.
In the middle of this accident, the company insisted on downplaying it.
Safety of the plant's adequate Ask the NRC.
I am sure they would take action.
I rather doubt there's melting Early on, a lot of people testified to investigators that they understood exactly what the hydrogen explosion meant.
That it meant that the core was melting, and there could be a significant amount of radiation that is released.
And nobody told the Governor of Pennsylvania.
The danger was potentially lethal amounts of radiation the first day, while children were going to school, while people were tending to their farms.
These people's lives were in peril, and nobody told them.
We don't believe it would warrant evacuation of the Middletown area They should have made that call for evacuation the first day of the accident.
But, of course, they didn't.
It has taken five years to reach last night's milestone in the cleanup with the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor.
It's the biggest step so far in the ongoing cleanup.
Workers lifted the lid on the power plant's crippled nuclear reactor for the first time since the 1979 accident.
When they put the crane into operation, I had since been fired.
And when they tested the crane, it worked.
When they used the crane and attached it to the reactor vessel head, it failed.
The crane had frozen at different points.
This was after numerous repairs.
And if they had done this a year ago, who knows what kind of disasters we could have had.
And it was probably the the biggest cosmic sigh of relief in my life.
That's why you don't take shortcuts in the nuclear industry.
After that, Bob Arnold resigned because of questionable integrity of management.
And the head NRC agent on-site, Lake Barrett, also resigned.
Oh, I didn't resign.
I mean, let's make that perfectly clear.
That's not true.
I mean, I was I was reassigned and I'd asked for it.
And that was part so my son could go to high school in Maryland and not change high school in the middle.
So, my My leaving had nothing to do, uh with these events and polar crane uh, that I'm aware of.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission may vote next week on whether to restart the undamaged reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
GPU insists that Three Mile Island's reactor one, which was not damaged in the accident, is perfectly safe to restart, with pipes repaired, and operators specially trained.
That whole radiation monitoring panel Even after the indictment of the company coming to light, the NRC and the company were doing everything they could, out of fear that this accident had killed the industry.
And they were determined to restart Unit 1 to show they could come back.
The state of Pennsylvania and the people who live nearby are dead set against it.
We now know that they lied.
We know the danger.
And we made a decision that we would do everything we could to keep it closed.
It's because I love my home, I love my kids that I'm doing this.
We're moms, dads, we have kids, grandkids.
We're not statistics.
We're people.
There had never been a commercial nuclear disaster in this country.
We were the first.
And we should have been guaranteed that that company would not start up again.
TMI's operators displayed 100 million dollars worth of improvements that they say make the plant ready for restart, while TMI opponents say their opposition is strong as ever.
That plant can literally hold your life in its hands, and I'm going down with a fight.
This is a company that has had the worst commercial nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power.
They can say nothing to me to reassure me.
As the truth came out over the years, it only added to the credibility gap that still haunts the nuclear power industry.
This is one of those moments in history that's a turning point.
The restart of Three Mile Island is really a symbol for the survival of nuclear power in America.
So, there's a fierce battle over the restart of Three Mile Island, and GPU pulled out all the stops.
They bring Admiral Rickover, the father of the Nuclear Navy to Three Mile Island.
He had immense influence on several of the NRC commissioners, on the industry in general, and gives Three Mile Island its blessing that it's safe to restart.
I would live right Fix me up a place right in this building, I'd be glad to live here.
But we never thought the plant would restart based on the preponderance of evidence that these people didn't have the resources, the character, the integrity to safely operate a plant.
You're not gonna let a felon operate a nuclear power plant, are you? I believe the major management faults which existed in 1979 have been corrected.
- All those in favor? - Aye.
- Opposed? - No.
Murderers! Nazi murderers, that's what you are.
- Will you please - You're killing our children.
You are murderers! I think we've completed the business that we came for Unit 2 accident was traumatizing to the local people, right? So no question about that.
Did people feel emotional about Unit 1 starting? Absolutely.
We voted no! Protest demonstrations began at Three Mile Island within hours of the May 29th restart decision.
But there was a very exhaustive, multi-year, very, very expensive process to ensure that that plant would be safe when it was restarted.
I I I was shocked.
I was absolutely shocked.
I couldn't believe it.
After the company has been indicted for cheating, for lying, falsifying leak rates But it's okay.
They can still operate the plant.
To say to the whole community, "You do not count.
" "It is not important how you feel, or what you do, or where you live.
" "It is more important for us to make money.
" There is no reasonable excuse for that.
In addition to that, we later learn Admiral Rickover's endorsement of Three Mile Island is really undermined by the fact that GPU contributed $380,000 to Mr.
Rickover's educational foundation.
Subsequent to that, Admiral Rickover's son, Robert, stated that his father was clinically senile at the time that he made the endorsement.
I do not personally think that Unit 1 should have been allowed to restart.
And I'm glad Admiral Rickover is not alive to hear me say that, that I would ever disagree with him.
What the industry learned from this is that you can lie, cheat, falsify documents, intimidate, and harass workers, be convicted of a crime, and you can get a license to operate a nuclear reactor.
That's the lesson of Three Mile Island.
Since Three Mile Island went back into operation in 1985, anxiety caused by the accident continues.
And in the face of an invisible nuclear threat, communities have serious doubts about their safety.
When I left Three Mile Island, I tried to put as much distance in my mind from that place as I could.
But I've never forgotten it, and I've never gotten over it.
And there are times it still troubles me.
It bothers me to the depth of my soul that I had to go through that, to do the job we were all tasked to do, and that's to protect the public.
People need to know what happened to these people around here.
What they're still dealing with.
And how even after 40 years, it'll still rear its ugly head.
The NRC, the utilities sold us down the river because they did not want to face the fallout.
The great mystery at Three Mile Island is how much radiation was really released, but the problem is a lot of data never got into a rigorous scientific analysis.
When the meltdown occurred, there really was no historical basis about what to do.
So, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had no real organized plan.
Most of the radiation that was released was released within the first three days, but they didn't have any high-level radiation monitoring equipment.
And so it became a scientific wild-ass guess as to how much radiation was actually being released into the environment.
The health department for the state had promised they were gonna follow through with this health study as long as you live within a five-mile radius of Three Mile Island.
And as the study went on, we weren't being contacted.
So, Paula contacted a friend of hers in the neighborhood who she knew was working on the survey.
And she said, "They told me that you're not in the five-mile radius.
" And that's an absolute lie.
No matter where you put that point of the compass on the island, we're within the five-mile radius.
So, therefore, gives me very grave concerns about, "Why didn't they want to include us?" I certainly was concerned about the exposure that I received.
They monitored me for a number of years.
And, uh, fortunately, I had no long-term effects from it.
So, it was We were fortunate.
In my opinion, the nuclear industry missed out on the best opportunity for public relations.
Being able to say, "The worst thing that could possibly happen did.
" "And nobody exceeded radiation exposure that could cause any type of biological effect.
" They started up to a 20-mile radius.
There was no indication of abnormal pattern of a cancer.
You have, in 1985, the Department of Health rushing to exonerate the company, but nobody in their right mind would conclusively deduce, immediately after the accident, negative impacts from being exposed to radiation.
That's not how radiogenic cancer occurs.
There's a latency period.
So, forever on the back of your mind, like a dark shadow, you're wondering, "Is this thing gonna hurt me, or at the end of the day kill me?" And, more importantly, could impact your genetic DNA for the rest of your children's lives.
My husband was diagnosed after the accident with Hashimoto's, which is a disease that attacks the thyroid.
The endocrinologist asked him if he happened to live near Three Mile Island.
So, I remember thinking that my kids were doomed.
I really thought they were doomed.
And just recently my youngest daughter had a fibroid tumor.
It was over ten pounds.
The issue of cancer in the community is a very personal one for me.
I've had cancer myself.
And my granddaughter at 18 had Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Well, I, I feel very sad for them.
I truly do.
Those were good people.
I don't think those illnesses had anything to do with Three Mile Island.
They probably believe it does, and I If that's what they believe, that's what they believe.
The leading expert of cancer rates in the Three Mile Island community looked at the radiation levels, and the direction the wind was blowing, which was up and down the Susquehanna River, and he found two to three times higher incidence of cancer in the area where the radiation was compared to the surrounding hills, where the radiation wasn't.
Can you find some isolated person who will tell you a story that's probably not scientifically legitimate? Sure.
You can.
You can probably find them, and you can make a wonderful show that scares people, and maybe you'll get good ratings.
But it's garbage.
Couple years ago, from here, around my arm, around my breasts, down to the pelvis area was covered in lymphoma.
It took years and years for Nikki to show any responses to the radiation exposure she received while she was a little girl.
And I am 100% convinced that her cancer is a result of the radiation exposure from Three Mile Island.
Excuse me.
Can I ask you real quick Sure.
What is that with the cough? It is I have no salivary glands and no, uh lymph glands on this side of my face.
And sometimes it chokes me off to the point I can't talk, I can't breathe, and I have to clear it out.
What is that from? Cancer.
Throat cancer.
I believe it was probably due to my nuclear background, but I was a smoker too.
So, there's always that "but" that prevents you from stating with certainty.
That's why the NRC gets away with everything.
TMI released an enormous amount of radiation.
It's just too many people that experience too many symptoms that have convinced me that the peak exposures could have easily been at a point where there's some really long-lasting biological effects that could later result in a cancer.
You can never take away the trauma that some people have sustained over 40 years and a town that has to recover.
And I think Rick reaching out to me was his way of saying, like, "It's time.
" "It's time that we tell the story.
" Hey, kiddo.
You look amazing.
So sorry about your mom.
Oh, my God.
I haven't seen Rick for all these years.
Right after he found out that I had cancer, he reached out to me.
I feel like Three Mile Island has been a central part of my life ever since I first stepped foot on that island, and I really wish it wasn't that way.
I feel the same.
How long have you been in remission? For two years now.
It's been a long, long road.
- As you know yourself.
- Well no.
It is horrible.
Anybody ever ask you or your mom about what happened to me after I went public? I'm here one day, and then I'm gone? Mom never really talked about it a lot.
I just knew she was afraid.
She was scared to death.
I've only had my heart broken twice in my life.
Once was with the boys' mom, and once was with your mom.
Yeah, I was broken into pieces.
Your mom begged me not to go public at the last minute.
Because she knew, as I knew, I was going to pay a price.
It destroyed my life.
It destroyed your life certainly.
Screwed it up seven ways from Sunday if it didn't destroy it.
And if your mom and I could have figured out a way that I could have walked out of that mess without me going public, I would have done it.
But there was no way that I could come up with.
- Think I'm a fool? - No.
I think you're my hero.
I think you're brave.
You are very special to me.
I think what you're doing, and what you're still doing, after all these years is the right thing to do.
And I'm sorry it's destroyed your life.
I don't think that there should be collateral damage for somebody that was trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.
Love you, kiddo.
I've had the opportunity, like many old men do, to reflect.
And after everything that happened to me at Three Mile Island, it changed the way I looked at life.
It changed the way I looked at people.
But if you ask me today, going forward, was it really worth bringing this force into existence? The accident occurred at the Chernobyl station in the Ukraine.
There's no way to say how much lasting damage that cloud of radiation may have already caused, far worse than the Three Mile Island incident of 1979.
Ten years ago tomorrow, the United States came up against the nuclear power plant nightmare of Three Mile Island.
There hasn't been a single order for a new commercial nuclear power plant in the United States since.
As has been demonstrated, man is arrogant and thinks that he can design anything he wants to design, and it will withstand the worst effects of nature.
And that is a false assumption.
Explosions at the Fukushima reactor in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami are triggering fears of a nuclear meltdown.
Questions loom about whether future disasters can be prevented.
The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant is now officially shut down with the blame placed on competition from other sources of energy.
While the plant is officially closing, it will still take decades for the one billion dollar cleanup to be completed.
Now, I still believe in the promise of nuclear energy.
Every country will need to invest in new clean-energy technologies.
With the amount of nuclear plants shutting down in the United States over the next ten years, supply to the grid will drop from 21% to 7%.
There is a modern-day energy crisis that needs solutions, and we need to keep nuclear in the mix.
But we'll never have a viable nuclear industry in this country until we take the profit motive out of it.
You can't have a profit motive overriding nuclear safety.
So, I have no regrets.
Given the same set of circumstances, I would do it again, knowing the price I would pay, knowing it could have been the end of the nuclear industry.
And I waited 37 years to tell this story.
There you are.

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