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Talk of the Town ... Nuclear power plants

March 27, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

Twenty years after the nation's worst nuclear power plant accident, Tri-State area residents are split over whether such plants are safe, but most agree they are necessary.

Noel Kucharski, 42, of Chambersburg, Pa., said he wasn't really scared by the March 28, 1979, accident at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pa.

"It's the cheapest way, probably the cleanest until something goes wrong," said Kucharski, who lived in New Jersey in 1979.

Idabelle and Lee Toms, of the Chambersburg area, said they think nuclear power plants are a lot safer today and are necessary.

"Without electricity we would be nothing, we would be crippled," said Idabelle Toms, 72.

David W. Shaw, 73, of Hagerstown, said he doesn't worry about nuclear power because it's out of his control.

Shaw said the Three Mile Island accident did make many people realize the hazards of nuclear power.

Madison Gates, 38, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said she doesn't think nuclear plants are safe because of human error.

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Her sons Paul Pedersen, 14, and Ryan, 12, weren't familiar with the accident. They said they thought nuclear power was necessary and felt safe as long as industry officials know what they are doing.

Many people today, especially youngsters, aren't familiar with the Three Mile Island accident.

On March 28, 1979, personnel error, design deficiencies and component failures led to the accident at Three Mile Island's second unit, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The reactor core was significantly damaged, but only a small amount of radioactivity was released, according to the commission.

Unit two is permanently shut down, while the license for unit one expires in 2014, when both units will be decommissioned.

The accident caused the commission to tighten and improve its regulatory oversight of power plants.

No one died or was injured from the accident, said Joe Gilliland, spokesman for the commission in Rockville, Md.

Some lawsuits were settled and insurance money was used to create an endowment fund to study whether there are any long-lasting health effects from the accident, Gilliland said.

Two days after the accident Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh issued a precautionary evacuation order for pregnant women and preschool children, several of whom came to Franklin County, Pa.

Mark Shockey, 58, of Waynesboro, Pa., said his niece, with her husband and young child, left their home near Hershey, Pa., and stayed with him for a week during the evacuation.

They returned to the Hershey area, where they live today, he said.

Shockey said he thinks nuclear power plants are safe today and are a necessary source of power.

His friend Pat Heefner, 55, of Waynesboro, agreed that nuclear power is a viable option, but said she thinks other options should be explored.

"There's got to be enough ingenuity in this country, or in this world, to come up with an alternative to nuclear power," Heefner said.

David West, 53, of St. Thomas, Pa., said the Three Mile Island accident got blown out of proportion at the time.

West said there was no need to evacuate the area.

While he feels the plants are safe, West said he would like to see alternative power sources, such as the wind and sun, used more.

Pat Peiffer, of Greencastle, Pa., said her daughter was in Hershey, Pa., when the accident occurred. Her daughter wasn't afraid because she was married to a plant worker, but Peiffer said she was scared for her daughter.

While nuclear power helps generate electricity, it could be harmful to us one day, Peiffer said.

Curtis Derbigny, 41, of Hagerstown, supports nuclear power, but said alternate sources such as wind power need to be used as well.

"The public doesn't realize a lot of the dangers people live under with fossil fuel," such as acid rain and the depletion of clean water, Derbigny said.

Derbigny, a mechanical engineer, said he worked in the nuclear industry for six years. He said his experience includes working for the Department of Energy on a project that showed a nuclear fuel facility could be decontaminated and decommissioned.

"I think that there can be safety measures that can ensure that we don't have a Chernobyl in America," Derbigny said.

By far the worst nuclear power plant accident in the world occurred at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986, Gilliland said.

In the Chernobyl accident a runaway reaction caused an explosion that sent pieces of the radioactive core and radioactive materials into the air, Gilliland said.

Unlike U.S. power plants, Chernobyl didn't have a containment building, he said.

Gilliland said 31 plant workers and firefighters died from the Chernobyl accident.

Eugene Tuckwiller, 82, of Martinsburg, said nuclear power plants aren't safe or necessary.

"I think the stupid politicians should have had hydro and solar power in effect by now," Tuckwiller said.

Accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl made Tom Gasper, 75, of Martinsburg, believe nuclear power plants aren't safe, he said.

"It's a shame because the power, we could really use it," Gasper said.

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