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Three Mile Island | The Domino Effect | 1

Three Mile Island | The Domino Effect | 1

Tue, 22 Sep 2020 09:00

On March 28, 1979, Bill Zewe hears an alarm at Three Mile Island. Something has gone terribly wrong at the nuclear power plant, in southern Pennsylvania. And now, the operators at the plant must move fast—before a crisis engulfs the region.

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It's the morning of March 22nd, 1979. In Washington, D.C. spring has already arrived. The sun shines brightly on the nation's capital and smiling couples stroll down streets near the National Mall. A taxi door slams and a 36 year old man steps out onto the sidewalk. His name is Jim Creswell, and unlike everyone around him, he's wearing a dark brown suit and a grim expression. Today is supposed to be Creswell's day off. He's a regional inspector for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that oversees the nation's nuclear power plants. Right now, Creswell would rather be at home with his wife and daughter back in Chicago, but Creswell has an important task, much more important than taking a day off. Today, he's going to meet with two commissioners from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and he's going to tell them something they have to hear. Creswell approaches a tall, looming building, the headquarters of the agency. He takes a deep breath and enters. But as he walks through the vast building, Creswell starts to wonder if this trip was a mistake. He's going behind his boss's backs, and that could land him in very hot water. But he doesn't feel he has much of a choice, not when so many lives might be at stake. Soon, Creswell steps into the conference room. Two men are sitting at a large oak table, and on the table, Creswell spots a letter. He immediately realizes that it's his letter, which he sent to the agency, detailing a recent incident at a nuclear power plant in Toledo, Ohio. It's a letter that could make Creswell a hero and save lives from a nuclear meltdown. Or, it could end his career. Creswell closes the door, takes a seat. One of the men leans forward and picks up the letter. It's Peter Bradford, one of the commissioners who runs the agency. Mr. Creswell, we understand you have some concerns, but tell me, why exactly are we meeting today? You work in the Chicago office. It's them who should handle everything you're worried about. Well, Mr. Bradford, if I can be blunt, no one in Chicago will do anything. And if they don't, we could be facing a catastrophe. People could die. Creswell sees the commissioner squinting at him. It's a look he's seen before, but he knows he has to plunge ahead. Sir, our regional office is stretched in. It's our job to watch over nuclear power plants to make sure they're safe, but instead, we've just handed over all the responsibility. Now, the people making sure the plants are safe are the same people who design them. And I believe they're cutting corners on safety. All we do is look the other way. And you believe that's what happened in Toledo. That's exactly what happened. The plant was online when faulty pumps collapsed and a safety valve failed to shut. But here's the thing, the plant designers knew the equipment was an issue. The plant ended up spewing thousands of gallons of nuclear reactor coolant. And the only thing that saved Toledo, the only thing, was that the plant was operating at 9% power. But the plant did follow safety protocols. Creswell shifts in his seat. He can feel his face starting to flush. He tries to stay composed. Sir, it was luck that someone caught it, not protocols. And this defective equipment isn't just in Toledo. The plant designer is Babcock and Wilcox. And they're using this equipment, this same equipment, at all their other plants in the US. And it's not just the equipment. The operators that the plants aren't trained to handle a crisis. Soon enough, you're going to have the wrong person in charge. And all hell's going to break loose. The two commissioners stare at Creswell, then look at one another. Finally, Commissioner Bradford nods and gathers his papers. All right, Mr. Creswell. Thank you for bringing this to the commissioners intention I promise. We will look into it. Creswell looks the two commissioners in the eyes. He wants to beg and plead with them to get them to understand the magnitude of this threat. But as the two men shuffle their papers and straighten their ties, Creswell knows there's only so much he can do. He's gone as high as he can up the chain of command. All he can do now is hope the commissioners will keep their promise. Because if they don't, nuclear power plants will continue their deadly game of Russian roulette. We get support from Audible. We've all got busy schedules. And I'm sure sometimes you feel like with all the things you have to do, it's hard to find time for the stuff you love to do. Like reading, that's why Audible is so great. Audible offers an incredible selection of audiobooks across every genre, from bestsellers and new releases to celebrity memoirs, mysteries and thrillers, motivation, wellness, business, and more. Plus, as an Audible member, you can choose one title a month to keep from their entire catalog, including the latest bestsellers and new releases. And also, I have to say, I love how the Audible app makes it easy to listen anytime anywhere when you're traveling, working out, walking, doing chores, wherever your day takes you. Cleaning the bathroom has really never been more fun. Let Audible help you discover new ways to laugh, be inspired, or be entertained. New members can try it free for 30 days. Visit slash listening, or text listening to 500 500. That's slash listening, or text listening to 500 500 to try Audible free for 30 days. slash listening. In the mid 1970s, America found itself gripped by an energy crisis. The country faced embargoes on its imported oil, and that sent the cost of gasoline and other petroleum products skyrocketing. These high prices exacted a huge toll on the economy, and soon the country began to push for alternative sources of power. One, shown brighter than all the rest, nuclear energy. Nuclear power promised a future of limitless, cheap energy. Its advocates also argued that it could be produced safely. So before long, nuclear projects began to boom across the country. At some in the public, grew anxious about this expansion of nuclear power, with its echoes of atomic bombs and mass destruction. Others questioned what would happen if radiation ever escaped the power plants. These fears grew more intense with the release of the motion picture, the China Syndrome, a film that considered the prospect of a devastating nuclear meltdown. The film was released in March of 1979 and quickly became a hit. But just days later, the possibility of a massive accident became more than just Hollywood fantasy. In Southern Pennsylvania, a nuclear power plant known as Three Mile Island began to suffer routine maintenance issues. Those issues quickly escalated toward an actual meltdown. The incident captured the nation's attention and set off waves of panic among local residents, as plant operators and government officials struggled to prevent a disaster. In this three part series, we'll examine what went wrong at Three Mile Island. We'll explore how government officials responded to a mounting crisis that threatened the public's health. This is Episode 1, the Domino Effect. It's the early morning of March 28, 1979. Clouds of steam drift into the dark sky, rising from the towers at Three Mile Island. Far below, Fred Scheiman whistles a tune, and heads toward the nuclear power plants turbine. Scheiman runs a finger through his drooping mustache and smiles, as he looks up at the gargantuan cooling towers in their billowing steam. Scheiman is a skilled nuclear engineer, but even after years on the job, he still marvels at the site of a nuclear power plant. The architecture looks like something out of science fiction. It's an unthinkable accomplishment of ingenuity and human imagination. Scheiman heads down the building's metal steps. A moment later, he hears the roars of pumps and the screaming winds of motors. The sounds echo through the vast concrete structure. To some, it might sound like chaos, but to Scheiman, it's a symphony and perfect harmony. Three mile island is operating at nearly 100 percent capacity. As they say in the industry, the reactor is running hot, straight, and normal. Scheiman descends past the massive turbine. That machine is powered by superheated steam from the nuclear reactor, and the turbine spins a generator, which produces 900 megawatts of electricity. The entire western half of Pennsylvania, some 600,000 homes, is lit from right here. Scheiman continues toward the basement. He sees the fellow operator in Shouts of Joe. The man laughs and waves him off. Scheiman smiles and keeps heading down. The operators are a tight knit group, friends, who work together to keep this complex system humming both night and day. As Scheiman descends another staircase, he notices a few yellow maintenance tags hanging off some valves. He lad those to the service roster when he returns to the control room. Right now, his top priority is a gummed up filter machine down on level 281. These filter machines clean the water that returns from the cooling towers. The water is everything for a nuclear power plant. Not only does it power the turbine esteem, it plays a vital role in keeping the reactor cool, but often the filters get clogged with contaminants and have to be cleaned. When he reaches the basement, Scheiman heads for the huge filter tanks, and sees another operator named Don Miller. Miller's face is shining with sweat and judging by Miller's expression, it looks like Miller hasn't yet been able to clear the filter. Scheiman claps his friend on the shoulder and is about to make a joke, but suddenly everything goes dead quiet. The two men look up, scan a bank of filters. Scheiman's heart starts to pound. Nothing in this plant is ever this quiet. He scans the whole wall, trying to figure out what just happened. It's not just one gummed up filter machine that's now down. It's all eight of them. Scheiman turns to Miller in the two exchange nervous glances. It's critical to keep water flowing to the reactor building, and so Scheiman checks a device to see if water is being rerouted around the filters, but then he sees something that makes a stomach drop. An important automated valve is not opening. Somehow, the emergency unit has failed as well. That means no water, no water at all, is coming from the cooling towers. The boilers are going to run dry, and if that happens, it'll be like turning the flames on high beneath an empty tea kettle. Except here, the kettle is 70 feet high and weighs 800 tons. The two men stare back at each other. Their eyes wide. Without saying a word, Scheiman turns and run for the stairs. It's now 4am. Bill Zeewee has just poured himself a cup of coffee. Zeewee's clean cut with a square jaw and stands in the doorway of his office surveying the Three Mile Island control room. This is his domain, a 40 foot panel that's lined with countless gauges and indicator lights. Zeewee sips his coffee, noting the dials and displays. He's the only graveyard shift supervisor for Three Mile Island. Right now, the control room is calm and orderly, and that's just how he likes it. But without warning, he hears a high pitched alert. Then a group of warning lights begin blinking along one of the walls. Zeewee sits down as mug and steps forward. He looks at the lights trying to gather information about what's going to rye. Strange, he thinks. Something has gone wrong with the water coming from the cooling towers. Then a new set of warning lights turn on. Zeewee glances at them. It's obvious what's happening. With no incoming water, a series of pumps are automatically turning off to protect themselves. Zeewee is about to pick up the foam when he hears another loud noise as more alarms come on. He curses and bangs his fists against a panel. All around him automated safety measures are going into effect. Three Mile Island is shutting itself down, and that means it's about to stop producing electricity. Bill Zeewee knows he has to take action quickly. He must get the plant back online as soon as possible, because Three Mile Island loses significant amounts of money for its owners every second it's down. Zeewee lifts his chin and straightens his back. He was trained in the Navy, and he knows that soldiers want to see confidence in their commanders when they're under pressure. And so he turns to his men, and with steady resolve, he orders them to find the source of the problem. They need to fix it and get the plant back up right away. But suddenly an operator calls out, there's a new issue. The gauges show the temperature and the boilers rising and fast. Zeewee shakes his head. The auxiliary pumps are running, and so the system should be cool, instead it's getting very hot. Zeewee checks on a key valve, one that acts like a doorway from the emergency pumps to the boiler. That's when he sees something that makes his mouth go dry. There's a yellow maintenance tag covering the indicator light. He knocks it aside, the light is off. That means the valve was shut down for maintenance. Zeewee feels a jolt of adrenaline. There's no actual water going into those boilers. They're dry. Zeewee spins around in Shouts and Order. They need to override the system and get water into the boiler and right now. An operator moves quickly and hits the release button. There's a moment's pause, then a blast of noise, like the explosion of a machine gun from far away. Zeewee knows that the cold water is now rushing into the super heated boiler and banging around as it turns into vapor. Zeewee clenches his jaw as more alarm sound. The pressure in the reactor is now spiking quickly. Heat from the radioactive decay must be boiling the reactor's coolant. But then Zeewee feels a wave of relief. An emergency safety valve, a PRV, the pour of, smashes open. It vents off coolant steam and the spike in pressure begins to slow to a halt. Zeewee looks down at his hands and realizes he's been digging his nails into his palms. He relaxes them, takes deep breath. Whatever comes next, he needs to be ready. The next day, the fire is on. Minutes later, Fred Scheinman bursts through the control room doors. Comes to a stop breathing heavily after dashing up eight flights of stators. He looks around the room and sees the alarm panels lit up like time square. Clearly, the filter shutdown is no longer breaking news. Zeewee hurries towards Scheinman holding reams and computer pronounce, strain is visible on his face. Before Scheinman can ask what's happening, Zeewee points toward a nearby bank of controls. Fred, I need eyes on the pressurizer coolant level. I'm worried we just burn some off. Roger that? Scheinman rushes to the console and scans the meters. Coolant level looks good. I'm seeing 180 inches. No, what's what the hell's happened? The emergency feed water wasn't getting into the boilers. The reactor's scrambled and the primary system started overheat. They're like domos falling. But I think we have it normalized now. Just then, Scheinman hears a loud bang and he whips back to the panel to see what just happened. The emergency coolant injection pumps are activating the system, is shooting coolant into the core. It's a pressure's normal, and why the hell do the injection pumps turn on? I don't know. Oh god. Pressurizer coolant levels are going up and real fast. I've got 200, 210. Emergency pumps are filling. Fred, what's going on? Scheinman shakes his head. Sweat is starting to pour off of the window. I don't know. It's 220, 250. We're half full. 280. The pressurizer's spiking. We can't fracture. It'll start spilling coolant. Why aren't the injectors shutting off? 330. Request permission to shut down the injectors. Damn it. Do it. Cut them off. Confirming emergency injection cut off. Commencing throttle down override. Pump one down. Commencing throttle down on pump two. Scheinman wipes his forehead, feeling the glistening sweat, as the pumps turn off. The knee glances at the needle in the pressurizer gauge. It comes to rest near the top of the scale. Okay, okay. Looks like we're steady at 360. Yeah, yeah. It's 360 confirmed. We're steady. Scheinman excels deeply and then leans back with relieved smile and turns to Zeewee. Bill, after this is done, I gotta go get a haircut. The boilers aren't the only things overheating a TMI, but Zeewee doesn't crack a smile. Instead, he stares at the consoles. We need bigger eyes on this. I'm going to call Gary. Get him to come in. Are you going to wake up the plant supervisor? Bill, we got this. Look, everything's going to be fine. Well, maybe, but Fred, I've seen a lot and I've never seen this before, ever. Zeewee turns from the control panel. So just keep an eye on everything, okay? I'll be right back. Scheinman nods. His eyes follow Zeewee who walks into his office and closes the door. Scheinman glances back at the gauges. He'd like to believe what he just said, that everything will be fine, that this is under control, but he knows he needs to be honest with himself. He's never seen anything like this before either. The meters are contradicting each other, her certainly not adding up. Slight there's not enough coolant in the core, even though it should be rimming. Scheinman shakes his head. There's not really a logical answer. Something must be very wrong. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, or you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening, brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit, and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening, is available ad free only with Wondry Plus, and if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple podcasts, or on the Wondry app. It's the early morning of March 28th, 1979. Grey light rises over the rolling farmland of Southern Pennsylvania. This early, the only sounds are the distant lowing of dairy cows. Then, from a distance, there's a low rumble. It gets louder and louder. It's an engine revving high. Suddenly, a gold painted car comes roaring into view. It flashes past herring down Pennsylvania route 441. Driving is Gary Miller. Miller is three mile islands plant supervisor. At 37 years old, Miller still has a baby face. Right now, his eyes are heavy with worry as they stare out the passenger window. He gays his past, the dense tree line, and the weathered ranch houses that line the Susco Hanna River. Often the distance, he sees the four massive cooling towers of three mile island. For Miller, the eerie structures have always projected a sense of incredible power. But in this pre dawn morning, what holds Miller's attention is the fact that no actual electricity appears to be coming from the plant. There's no steam rising from the towers. The plant is down. Bill Zeewee had broken this news to Miller just 20 minutes ago when he called and woke up Miller. Zeewee hadn't sounded like himself on the phone. There was a manic energy in his voice, and he was talking rapidly about a clogged filter machine and how it somehow snowballed into a full reactor shutdown. Zeewee tried to get things running again, but the instrument readings didn't make any sense. So we asked Miller to come in as soon as possible. Miller grips the steering wheel as he races down the road. He knows that when the turbine doesn't spin, there are huge financial losses. His employer, Metropolitan Edison Company, loses a whopping $20,000 an hour, and MetEd doesn't want to lose a single dime. Miller's job is to keep that turbine spinning by any means necessary. Miller knows that despite his background in the Navy, many still consider him a rookie. Operators like Bill Zeewee seem to respect him, but there are many more that still call him kid. This is his chance to fix whatever is paralyzing the plant and to silence his doubters. Takes one last look at the cooling towers of Three Mile Island, and James's foot on the gas. It's now 5.15 am. Bill Zeewee stands in the small bathroom outside the Three Mile Island control room. Zeewee stares at his own reflection, trying to clear his head, and figure out a plan. The main filter system isn't working. The reactor temperature is slowly increasing, and worst of all, the instruments are contradicting each other. This isn't a question of saving dollars anymore. It's about preventing a crisis. Zeewee shuts his eyes and leans against a cold wall. All his years of military training were in preparation for this exact kind of moment. He knows that fear is his worst enemy. He can't panic. He needs to stay calm to accept the facts of the situation, and then make the most practical choice. Zeewee opens his eyes, his head suddenly feeling clear. He needs to keep the coolant in the reactor moving. That way the heat won't build up too quickly. So he's found his answer. That's what they have to do. Zeewee exits the bathroom and hurries back into the control room. But right when he enters the room, he hears a new sound underneath all the blaring sirens. It's a distinctive thumping. Zeewee looks up to the monitors and sees that the reactor coolant pumps are starting to shake violently. They're in trouble. And with the temperature rising, they could soon tear apart. That can't happen because the pumps could start to gush coolant. That might even uncover the core, causing the temperature to shoot up like a rocket. There could even be a meltdown. Zeewee feels his chest growth tight. He has to make a decision. He has to make it now. He takes a deep breath and then calls for the coolant pumps to be shut off. It's a horrible risk, because this may cause the temperature to rise in the core faster. And even if it works, it's a temporary fix. Still, the best one at his disposal. Zeewee slumps into a chair. His whole body feels numb with worry. He feels like he just lit a fuse. How quickly will that fuse burn? He doesn't know. But one thing is certain. They've got to solve this thing for good. I'm very soon. Later that morning, the sun is finally rising over three mile island. But as plant supervisor Gery Miller picks up a phone, his mood is still dark. He's in the control room and taken charge, but so far he hasn't been able to contain this growing crisis. That's why he's glad to hear the voice on the other end of the line. It's a representative from Babcock and Wilcox, the designers of the nuclear plant. Miller gathers his thoughts as he stares across the rows of blinking lights in the control room. This morning has been a nightmare, but hopefully the representative can explain what exactly they need to do. Miller cradles the phone against his neck while gathering readings on coolant levels and temperatures. He relays the information over the phone and the Babcock and Wilcox representative says he has an idea. He suggests checking the pore of emergency valve, which should have opened automatically and relieve pressure in the overwhelmed system. The representative then pauses as he was his next words. Miller can tell that he's not saying something important. So Miller snaps, telling the representative that now is not the time to withhold information. Man's size and says he needs to explain something. This emergency valve, the pore of which releases the pressure, it has a troubled history. Miller lowers his voice and turns away from the other operators. And he asks the representative what he means. What kind of troubled history have they seen with this crucial device? The representative sighs again and says that unfortunately this valve has a history of sticking open. It's a known defect, but it's only been a problem in the rare cases of high pressure emergencies. Metropolitan Edison's view of the problem was lightning wouldn't strike. Typically nothing like this ever goes wrong. Miller is stunned. He wants to interrogate the man, find out why on earth they would use equipment with a known track record of failure. But he knows there's no time for an argument. Instead he looks up and orders a runner to go check on the valve. For a moment Miller stands with a phone still cradle to his ear waiting. Maybe this is the answer, maybe once they fix this valve the whole crisis will be over. But soon the runner returns with a cell and look on his face. He tells Miller that the valve is closed and seems to be operating normally. Miller shakes his head and disbelief and calls for the block valve to the pore to be closed just in case. And he speaks into the phone and tells the company representative what he's just learned. There's long science. Finally the Babcock and Wilcox representative admits that he isn't sure what's going on. He suggests they begin checking other valves. Miller's face reddens with frustration and he pounds on the wall. Then he hangs up the phone and holds his face in his hands. His throat is dry and his whole body feels racked with nausea. Miller knows that the clock is ticking. They have to figure this out soon. There's not much time. It's now 6.23 am. Bill Z. We stand in front of the control panel surveying the red and green warning lights. He shakes his head at what he's seeing. Impossible the computer seems to be attempting to restart the reactor. Somehow the core radio activity has gotten high enough to confuse the system. Z. We catches Gary Miller's eye. He asks the plant supervisor if they could step outside the control room to talk. Miller nods and together the two walk toward the heavy steel doors. The two men buzz themselves out and walk down a nearby stairwell. Once they're far enough away the sound of the alarms grow muted. At that moment the Z. We realize is just how impossible it's been trying to think with relentless noise and flashing lights. Turns to Miller and Grimissus. I don't get it. We've looked at everything. I think we should call the auxiliary building so you can get eyes on a broken pipe or something. I just can't understand. It must be something we've overlooked. Something some... powers. Z. We isn't able to finish the thought. Because right then there's the unmistakable sound of radiation alarms going on. Both men immediately hurry back to the control room. Once they step inside and operate or approaches them saying that there are high levels of radiation in the auxiliary containment building. They're getting elevated readings from water that's now seeping up from the floor. Miller turns back to Z. We call Unit 1 Bill. Tell the men over there to secure. I think we need to secure everything. It's time we should declare a site emergency. Miller looks off into the distance. Horses is left. And it turns back to Z. We do it. Z. We steps to the inocon. He stands there for just a heartbeat feeling frozen. There's no coming back from this decision. And he knows there's no choice. So he hits the talk button. This is Unit 2. Three mile island Unit 2. We are declaring a site emergency. This is not a drill. We are declaring a site emergency. Bill Z. We clicks off. Not quite believing the words he's just spoken. Within seconds, clacks on and warning horns pierce every room and stairwell at the nuclear power plant. The alarms blare at ear piercing levels and right away Z. We's heart starts pounding uncontrollably. Imagine Z. LaRMS reverberating over the complex traveling out toward the nearby townships. For those still sleeping, it will be the sound of nightmares. And Z. We know that this is only just getting started. It's 8am on March 28th 1979. Mike Pintek steers a bright yellow Camaro into a parking spot and rolls up his window. It turns off the radio and steps out of the car. Pintek smooths down his massive brown hair and smiles as he gays it at the headquarters of WKBO. WKBO is a radio station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Pintek may be only 27 years old, but he's ambitious and already he's worked his way up to be the station's news director. That's how he's gotten this Camaro. It's the station's idea of a company car. As Pintek walks toward the station building, he notices that the bright yellow chavette that WKBO uses to cover traffic isn't in the spot. Well that's good he thinks. That means his traffic reporter Captain Dave Edwards has already out on the job. Not that Harrisburg is known for traffic. It may be the capital of Pennsylvania, but the city is more of a historical point of interest than a thriving metropolis. And yet Pintek has high standards, he wants WKBO to operate with true professionalism, like any of the stations in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. Pintek opens the door to the office and enters the newsroom. Right away he's greeted by his favorite sounds of the morning, the clacking of his co anchors typewriter and a phone that's already ringing. In mere seconds he has the receiver to his ear. It's his traffic reporter Dave Edwards. Pintek begins joking with Edwards asking whether he's pulling 90 down the highway, but Edwards interrupts him, his voice sounding serious. He says that something odd is happening at 3 Mile Island. There's all kinds of clatter on the fleece scanners. Sounds like fire trucks and emergency vehicles are already mobilizing. Pintek frowns as he mulls this over. 3 Mile Island is only about 10 Mile South of Harrisburg and Pintek hasn't heard anyone say a word about the nuclear power plant. But Edwards is always good for a story lead and so Pintek thanks him and hangs up. Then he begins flipping through his role at X. If something is happening at the nuclear power plant he wants to get right to the heart of it. Pintek dials the main number for 3 Mile Island. After a few rings an operator picks up. Hi good morning this is Michael Pintek with WKBO. I'm calling to get a status update. Pintek has to stop himself for laughing. Getting scoops is usually not this easy. Yes that's correct about the situation with Unit 2. Pintek grabs his notebook and quickly flips it open to a blank page. He clicks his pen and scribbles Unit 2. Finally someone answers. Hi this is Mike Pintek with WKBO. What's the status over there? No WKBO is everything okay? Michael Pintek on the news director at WKBO at Harrisburg. A general emergency? Pintek knows a general emergency means an incident with the potential for serious consequences for public safety. He was about to ask if there was a release of radiation when he hears a click and then a dial tone. The man on the other end of the line has hung up. Pintek sits holding the phone. Finally he replaces the handset back in its cradle. He feels the tingle of a big story. Something is going on and he's going to get to the bottom of it. Pintek turns back to his roll index and starts spinning through numbers. It's time to start making more calls. 20 minutes later Mike Pintek sits behind the large play class window in WKBO's broadcasting studio. He's surrounded by audio equipment and much of it looks like he was left over from the early 50s. Huge clock dominates one wall. Pintek queues up the real to real background music and sound effects for his news report. His co anchor Michelle waits just outside the glass. She raises her hand to give him the lead in countdown. Pintek checks his microphone one last time as Michelle counts him in. Pintek then introduces himself on air and calmly explains that he's just learned about an incident at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility. He tells the listeners that after speaking directly with a plant control room, he plays to call to Three Mile Islands parent company Metropolitan Edison. The company's director of communications assured him there was nothing to be concerned about. Pintek says that the company did acknowledge that there was a slight malfunction. Pintek pauses to let this sink in. Then he adds that there was a minor release of radiation on site. Pintek notes that according to the communications director, it was all contained. No radiation escaped the plant. A general emergency was called more as a procedural requirement of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The company's explanation had sounded fishy to him and it still does. As a journalist, he's come to rely on these kind of gut instincts. But right now, the company's story is all he has to go on. Still, his instincts say that something more is happening here. And he wants to get to the bottom of it. It's the kind of scoop that could put WKBO and his reporting on the map. Pintek is almost certain the governor's office will hold a press conference on this. And when he does, Pintek is going to be there, front row. At 10am, Lieutenant Governor Bill Scranton III stands in a dayus in the Pennsylvania State Capital in Harrisburg. He's only 31, but he's a commanding presence in his power suit and tie. Scranton reaches out and adjusts a microphone. Scranton isn't surprised to see the room is packed with reporters. They're clearly buzzing from an earlier report by WKBO's Mike Pintek. Scranton got the news too. He was at home this morning when he got word from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, which said that there was a general emergency at 3 mile island. So with the governor's support, Scranton immediately scheduled this press conference. As Scranton looks out at the seat of reporters, he feels a buzz of energy coursing through him. Scranton is the son of former Pennsylvania governor William Scranton, but he's also known for paving his own way in politics. Scranton knows that high profile incidents like this can define a political career. As he stands on the day, Scranton knows that this is his chance to be bold to capture the public's attention. With Scranton also knows that in moments like these, he has to be perfect. That's why he looks over at Bill Dornsife, a nuclear engineer from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Radiation Protection. Scranton wishes he could have one last word with Dornsife to get any updates, but Dornsife is still on the phone with state inspectors. Scranton knows he can't wait any longer, so he signals that he's starting the press conference. Scranton begins addressing the crown. He confirms that there has been an incident at 3 mile island. Metropolitan Edison, the nuclear plants parent company, has assured him that there was no offsite radiation. Scranton looks across the room and makes eye contact with as many of the reporters as he can, and then he tells the room that everyone is safe. Suddenly, though, Scranton notices Dornsife out of the corner of his eye. The nuclear engineer looks like he's trying to get his attention. Scranton pauses, but then continues relaying the message that there is no public danger of any kind. Then he notices Dornsife shaking his head. The reporters turn and pick up on Dornsife's body language. One of them asks specifically what radiation hazard is. Are they sure that no radiation was released offsite? Scranton is just about to answer when Dornsife steps up. Scranton's eyes go wide and his mouth hangs open. This is not how the press conference was supposed to happen. Dornsife looks like he wants to speak and make an announcement of his own. Scranton knows it would be a disaster to stop him, but judging by the engineer's face, he also gets the sense that Dornsife has bad news. News that's about to make Scranton look like a fool. Dornsife leans forward and announces that he has just hung up the phone with onsite inspectors at three mile island. And in fact, a small amount of radioactive iodine has been detected in Goldsboro, the community across the river from the plant. The atmosphere in the room abruptly shifts. And Scranton feels like his voice is now stuck in his throat, that he's frozen in place. The reporters begin peppering Dornsife with questions. All Scranton can do is stand and watch as Dornsife takes command of the press conference. Scranton's jaw clenches, so much for a bold political moment. He's furious that Met Ed lied to him and made him look like the liar, but it's bigger than that he thinks if Met Ed denied the radiation had been released, what else are they covering up? Scranton pictures Goldsboro in his mind. It's a tiny harem, maybe 500 people living in the shadow of three mile island, but just a couple miles away, there are multiple towns with thousands of residents. At 10 miles out, there are cities like Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster. The area surrounding three mile island is home to hundreds of thousands of people. Scranton looks out at the reporter scribbling furiously in their notebooks. In no time at all, the news of the radiation will spread across Pennsylvania, like a terrible contamination. It'll so confusion, maybe even panic. Scranton knows this could be a disaster, but it's also a chance to step up and lead the state during an unprecedented crisis. That is exactly what Scranton intends to do. Next on American Scandal, the operators at three mile island struggle to tame the runaway nuclear plant. As their efforts fail and evacuation orders begin, it becomes frighteningly clear that the catastrophe is bigger than anyone imagined. From Wondery, this is Episode 1 of Three Mile Island for American Scandal. A quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what we said, but all our dramatizations are based on historical research. Our consultant for this series is Jay Samuel Walker. He's the author of the book Three Mile Island, a nuclear crisis in historical perspective, which contains many more rich details about the nuclear accident. And if you'd like to learn even more about Three Mile Island, we recommend the book The Warning by Mike Gray and Ira Rosen. American Scandal is hosted, edited and executed, produced by me, Lindsey Graham for Airship, audio editing by Molly Bach, Sound Design by Derek Barrett. This episode is written by Charles Olivier, edited by Christina Malsberg, produced by Gabe Riven. Execute producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lara Beckman, and her nonlopest for One Night.