Cover image for Three Mile Island : a nuclear crisis in historical perspective
Three Mile Island : a nuclear crisis in historical perspective
Walker, J. Samuel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, 2004.
Physical Description:
xi, 303 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1500 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TK1345.H37 W35 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
TK1345.H37 W35 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Twenty-five years ago, Hollywood released The China Syndrome, featuring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas as a TVnews crew who witness what appears to be a serious accident at a nuclear power plant. In a spectacular coincidence, on March 28, 1979, less than two weeks after the movie came out, the worst accident in the history of commercial nuclear power in the United States occurred at Three Mile Island. For five days, the citizens of central Pennsylvania and the entire world, amid growing alarm, followed the efforts of authorities to prevent the crippled plant from spewing dangerous quantities of radiation into the environment. This book is the first comprehensive account of the causes, context, and consequences of the Three Mile Island crisis. In gripping prose, J. Samuel Walker captures the high human drama surrounding the accident, sets it in the context of the heated debate over nuclear power in the seventies, and analyzes the social, technical, and political issues it raised. His superb account of those frightening and confusing days will clear up misconceptions held to this day about Three Mile Island.

The heart of Walker's suspenseful narrative is a moment-by-moment account of the accident itself, in which he brings to life the players who dealt with the emergency: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the state of Pennsylvania, the White House, and a cast of scientists and reporters. He also looks at the aftermath of the accident on the surrounding area, including studies of its long-term health effects on the population, providing a fascinating window onto the politics of nuclear power and an authoritative account of a critical event in recent American history.

Author Notes

J. Samuel Walker is the historian of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear accident approaches, the official historian of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) provides the first comprehensive scholarly account of the incident--and the first major study of the subject in more than 20 years. Walker, who has authored or coauthored three previous books on U.S. nuclear-power regulation during his 20 years at the NRC, opens this volume with three chapters of context: a description of the public debate over nuclear power before TMI, a survey of the history of U.S. regulation of this controversial power source, and a useful explanation of the design elements and operational techniques U.S. nuclear plants used to prevent accidents if possible and to minimize the impact of any unpreventable accidents. Chapters 4 through 8 anatomize the events of March 28 through April 1, 1979, at Three Mile Island and in the state and national capitals (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.), while chapters 9 and 10 review the immediate and long-term impact of those five frightening days. Thoroughly researched administrative history; includes photos, notes, and a useful essay on sources. --Mary Carroll Copyright 2004 Booklist

Choice Review

Walker (historian, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has prepared a political, social, regulatory, and journalistic history of the events associated with the Three Mile Island incident in 1979. He goes into great detail about what might have happened if this condition, or that condition, were changed. Walker also delves into why no disaster occurred, and why the predictions of the movie The China Syndrome (released 25 years ago in 1979) did not come to pass. The book also tries to assess why the public believed that the Three Mile Island accident was a catastrophe, on the order of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, when no one died and only a miniscule amount of radiation was released. This dry, detailed book describes the moment-by-moment activities of the most minor of bureaucrats and nuclear activists. Readers interested in press conferences held in March and April of 1979 about the accident will want this book. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through professionals. A. M. Strauss Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
1 The Nuclear Power Debatep. 1
2 The Regulation of Nuclear Powerp. 29
3 Defense in Depthp. 51
4 Wednesday, March 28: "This Is the Biggie"p. 71
5 Thursday, March 29: "The Danger Is Over for People Off Site"p. 102
6 Friday, March 30: "Going to Hell in a Handbasket"p. 119
7 Saturday, March 31: "You're Causing a Panic!"p. 151
8 Sunday, April 1: "Look What We Have Done to These Fine People"p. 173
9 The Immediate Aftermath of the Accidentp. 190
10 The Long-Term Effects of Three Mile Islandp. 209
Notesp. 245
Essay on Sourcesp. 287