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Three Mile Island | The Ticking Clock | 2

Three Mile Island | The Ticking Clock | 2

Tue, 29 Sep 2020 09:00

When politics intervene, the engineers at Three Mile Island find themselves up against a wall. Mike Pintek airs a stunning interview on the radio, and causes a panic. And Bill Scranton tries to restore calm to the shaken residents of Pennsylvania.

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It's late afternoon on March 28, 1979. Gary Miller hurries up a marble staircase underneath a gold rotunda. It climbs higher up the stairs and gays across the lobby of Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. Today the Capitol is swarming with reporters. Their voices echo off the walls and Miller can hear them gossiping about one subject and one subject alone. The incident at 3 mile island. Miller shakes his head. He's the supervisor of the nearby nuclear power plant and he knows he needs to keep a straight face with so many journalists nearby. But inside he's fuming. He shouldn't even be here right now. He's been dealing with high radiation levels in a nuclear core that may have been damaged. Miller needs to be back at his post managing the crisis not here. But he wasn't allowed to stay at the plant. Not after he received orders from his boss, Jack Herbine, who demanded that Miller attend a meeting with Lieutenant Governor to explain what exactly is happening at 3 mile island. Miller walks through a hallway and follows Herbine into Bill's Grantons office. The room is packed with attorneys and scientific experts all standing with grim expressions. And in the middle of this circle sits Granton. Miller feels shaky when he sees the Lieutenant Governor surrounded by some of the most powerful people in the state. Yet right now Miller's goal is simple. He needs to quickly update Granton about the incident and then get back to the plant and stop the growing crisis. Miller shuts a heavy wooden door and turns back to Scranton. The other men in the room go quiet and part to the sides of the room as Granton approaches Miller and Herbine with a look of fury. So I've learned that you've been airing out the plant. I've got press asking me if you all are just fanning out radiation across Pennsylvania. You want to explain yourself? Maybe explain why you haven't told anyone about it? Miller feels every eye focused on him. His hands begin to shake when he knows he needs to keep a steady mind. Sir, it's normal for a nuclear power plant to vent steam. That's all it is just steam. That's how we stabilize the heat. It's like opening up a tea kettle that's whistling. Well, that's a very cute comparison, a tea kettle, huh? So you're telling me that radiation escaping offsite is normal? I guess we've got different definitions of the term. Sir, the radiation leak this morning came from the auxiliary building. The steam we've inventing has nothing to do with that. I promise. Scranton pauses, looking away as he runs a hand through his hair. Let's say I believe you're promises. But that doesn't change what the public thinks. Anything visible coming out of your plant right now is going to frighten people. All they're going to see is big steamy clouds of radiation. But radiation doesn't look like steam, sir. It's invisible. Damn it. You know what else is invisible? Panic. And both have serious consequences. Right then, Jack Hurbide stands and addresses the lieutenant governor. Gentlemen, I know tempers are high, but it's important that everyone understands something. The incident at the plant today is not significant. There's nothing to worry about. Miller is stunned. They're dealing with high radiation levels and rising temperatures. He can't believe his boss would make such a rosy claim. And it seems that the reassurances aren't working on Scranton either. Scranton stares at Hurbide. His mouth hanging open. Mr. Hurbide was radiation leak off site or not. Well, yes, yes it was, but the off site release was minimal. And did you inform the press that radiation had left the plant or not? No, I didn't. They didn't ask me. Miller feels the atmosphere in the room go cold. He clears his throat to speak, but Scranton beats him to it. Listen everyone. Three mile island is not going to release anything into the atmosphere or the river or anywhere sounds without informing the state in advance. And I mean nothing. My clear, Mr. Hurbide, Mr. Miller, good day. And with that, Scranton walks out of the room, a scowl plastered on his face. Jack Hurbide's size and relief and waves familiar to follow him out the door. But Gary Miller remains stunned, frozen in place. He had his chance to explain the situation to the Lieutenant Governor to get Bill Scranton on their side, but somehow the conversation fell apart before he was even underway. Now Miller thinks they've burned a crucial bridge to the governor's office and lost an important ally if this grows into a full fledged crisis. But for Gary Miller, that's not the worst part. They need to keep venting steam from the power plant. But now with the Lieutenant Governor's order, they may have to stop. And without literally letting off steam at 3 mile island, temperatures could rise, and the crisis could grow far, far worse. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins, and where it's headed will have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as Eileen, a veteran reporter who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light. From Academy Award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy, Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC, and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Some wondering, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Skin. On March 28th, 1979, engineers at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island Power Plant lost control of their nuclear reactor. Safety mechanisms broke down, and instruments contradicted each other, leaving the plants operators in a state of panic and confusion. What none of the operators realized was that a critical relief valve had gotten stuck open. It was a valve that was known to have defects, in which started blasting out radioactive water and steam. By the time the valve was finally shut, the damage was done. Three mile island lost 32,000 gallons of coolant, a liquid necessary to prevent the reactor's core from overheating and melting down. Soon, the confusion and panic would spread far beyond the nuclear power plant. The public learned that radiation had leaped from the plant and found its way into surrounding communities. This plunged the state government into crisis as the governor's staff began planning for possible evacuations. This is episode two, The Ticking Clock. It's 5.20pm on Wednesday, March 28th. Gary Miller walks quickly out of the Three Mile Island guardhouse. Miller, the plant supervisor, is wearing head to toe anti contamination gear. As he walks, he listens to the rasp of his breath through the regulator to his oxygen tank. This has been a day like no other, and it just keeps going. Miller worried that he'd lose precious time during his trip to Harrisburg to the state capital. His worst fears were proven right. Now, hours later, he's finally heading back to the plant and it's still in crisis. Miller navigates a maze of fluorescent passageways which lead to the control room of Unit 2. He thinks about the priorities in front of him. First and foremost, he's got to get the temperature under control. Soon Miller reaches the heavy reinforced door, he buzzes himself in. Right away, he's engulfed by blaring alarms and flashing lights. He can feel his pulse quickening and his breath getting short. The situation appears no more under control than it was hours ago. The one bright note is that the operators are no longer wearing their protective breathing gear. The foreman greets Miller and tells him that the radioactivity in the room has dropped to the point where they can breathe normally without respirators. But the foreman adds, that's the only silver lining, because the temperature in the reactor is still high. Miller takes off his mask in regulator and shouts out a curse. Now they're stuck. Grant and order them not to vent any steam, but that's the only way to cool the reactor. Miller thinks over the options, and he realizes he has only one. He just has to convince Grant and to change his mind. Miller heads toward the phone to call Jack Hurby to run the strategy by him. But as he crosses the room, the phone is already ringing. He picks it up. Control room Unit 2, this is Miller. Gary, this is Jack Hurby. Jack, I was just about to call you. Listen, the heat is still up and it's rising. We need to talk to Grant, and we've got to change course. We've got to vent this thing. There's silence on the other end of the line. So Miller presses on. I know it's not ideal, but there's no other way. No, Gary. We're not going to do that. Jack, sorry. I know that folks don't want to see steam, but it's just steam. We have to make that point clear. Gary, listen, it's too late for that. No, it's not too late. I swear. We need to call up Grant's office and explain what we need to do. We're not going to do that. Tom Brass is saying we need to do it a different way. They want to get a pump restart. The idea is we'll get the coolant around faster. Miller shuts his eyes, shakes his head. He can't believe he's hearing this plan. Jack, the temperature is still way too high. That's why we turned the pumps off. They were shaking like crazy, trying to deal with all the steam. Yes, well, that brings us to the second part of the plan. You get rid of the steam by filling the reactor to the gills with coolant. Then you can restart your pump. You're kidding. No, no, that's too dangerous. Babcock and Wilcox think it's a good idea, so that's what we're going to do. Babcock and Wilcox are the ones who designed the plant, the ones who designed the faulty valve that probably got us into this whole mess. I can't say I put a lot of stock in their word, Jack. Look, we've already uncovered the core once. If we make the wrong move, the thing is just going to fly out of control. Gary, listen to me and listen carefully. This will work. I want you to commence emergency coolant injection. I want you to do it now. Miller wants to take the foam receiver and slam it into the wall. He wants to tell her behind that this is going to lead to a disaster. But instead, he just remains silent. Gary, that was an order. I'm ordering you to commence injection immediately. Miller slowly exhales. As then he realizes there's no way out of this. Roger that. I'm going to acknowledge the commencing emergency coolant injection. Miller takes one more breath and calls for the operation to begin. He then joins the other operators and the group waits. Their hands clush to their faces as the coolant shoots into the core. A moment later, there's a slight tremor. Miller freezes. This could be it. The core could be damaged beyond repair and headed toward a meltdown. Miller grows dizzy with the thought. He wipes his forehead and steadies himself on a nearby desk. This is a perfect storm. Mistakes and coverups from the company that designed the reactor. Cowardist from political leaders, even more cowardice from the people who own this plant. Miller still can't wrap his mind around everything's gone wrong. Three mile island was supposed to be foolproof. Instead it could be ground zero if the world's biggest man made disaster. But then Miller hears a noise and looks up. The pump has started to operate. Miller scans the gauges looking for any spike or drop in pressure. But there's none. The pump keeps going. The plan is working. Already the operators say that the reactor temperature is dropping. Miller lets out his breath and he realizes he's been holding it for what feels like minutes. His prediction was wrong. He'd been so certain it's a moment of sweet relief. But it doesn't last long. Because Gary Miller knows that even though they're succeeding here and now, their countless surprises ahead and plenty that can still go terribly wrong. It's now 10pm in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Mike Pintek hurries past the rounded arches and greet columns inside the state capital building. Soon he approaches the press room and finds it filled to the brim with reporters. Pintek gays is across the room stunned. Pintek is the news director of the local radio station WKBO. He's often on the scene with other reporters, but he's never been to an event that feels so charged, so full of buzzing, electric energy. Pintek spots reporters from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He also sees journalists from Washington in New York. These journalists cover the biggest stories in the country. Now they're here, reporting on the developments at Three Mile Island. All at once the magnitude of this unfold in crisis hits Pintek and nearly takes his breath away. A moment later a few of these reporters approach Pintek. They ask for his take on all the rumors about Three Mile Island. Pintek grins as he begins filling in the details for these hard hitting journalists. He recounts how the lieutenant governor first said that the incident was contained, but how radiation was then found off site from the power plant. Pintek and the reporters continue gossiping until the room settles down and goes quiet. Press conferences about to begin, so Pintek grabs a seat and takes out a no pet. A moment later, Bill scrants and steps to the dais. The lieutenant governor looks weary and stooped and pauses before plunging in. Scrantin then tells reporters that he has finally received an official update from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency that oversees nuclear power plants. The Three Mile Island plant is now under control. All readings are stable. Pintek squints as he listens. Reporters are busy scribbling in their notebooks, taking down Scranton's words. Something doesn't feel right to might Pintek. There was already a radiation leak and the plant had declared a general emergency. Not to mention, Met Ed had already been accused of deceiving the public, but now at the end of the day they're all being told the crisis is over. Pintek sets down his pen. He can feel it, like a drennel in rushing through his body. This isn't the whole story far from it. And at that moment, Pintek makes the decision. No matter what it takes, he's going to dig, and he's going to search and keep making calls until he uncovers the full truth. It's Thursday, March 29, and just a day after the events began unfolding a three mile island. In downtown Harrisburg, morning sunlight shines through Windows with a small hotel room. The light lands on a taper corner, which lies on a round wooden table. On one side of the table is Mike Pintek. On the other side is a middle aged man in a coat and tie. The man is named Dr. Ernest Sternglas, and he's a nuclear engineer and a respected physicist from the University of Pittsburgh. Sternglas speaks with a faint German accent, as he explains that he uncovered a number of surprises near three mile island. Pintek licks his lips as he begins jotting down notes. This is exactly the kind of scoop he's been looking for. He can't get himself to accept the official statements about three mile island. So last night after the press conference, he got on the phone with anti nuclear activists. They told him that Dr. Sternglas had driven down from Pittsburgh and that the researcher had surveyed the area around three mile island. And apparently, he's happy to talk. That's why right now in this hotel room, Sternglas begins explaining what he uncovered this morning. He says that he drove down to three mile island, armed with his own Geiger counter, and he walked through the fields across the river from the power plant. The counter clicked and wind. Neckod only mean one thing. The radiation levels were much higher outside three mile island than officials indicated. The glass adds that radiation is probably still leaking from the plant. As Pintek takes down notes, the physicist's justistic glasses imposes. And then, in a low serious voice, Sternglas explains that local residents could face devastating consequences if they're not evacuated. There's a significant risk that women will have miscarriages and stillbirths. The children will suffer from leukemia. A Sternglas continues to describe the dangers Pintek glances at the television in the corner. Good morning America plays quietly, and on the show is an executive from Metropolitan Edison, the parent company of Three Mile Island. The executive smiles and what seems to be an attempt to put the nation at ease. Pintek shakes his head. He can't stomach this terrible disconnect between what he's hearing and what the rest of the country is being told. Pintek then asks a few more questions, turns off his recorder, and thanks Dr. Sternglas for his time. And as Pintek rises, the sinking feeling sets in on him. He knows he has a big decision to make. Minutes later, Mike Pintek exits the hotel. He steps into the parking lot and makes his way to his yellow Camaro. He steps in and drops the tape recorder on the passenger seat. He jams the keys into the ignition and is about to turn the car on, but then stops. He looks again at the tape recorder. Feels like a loaded gun, ready to fire. Pintek stares out the windshield, watching pedestrian strolling down the sidewalk. Suddenly, Pintek feels a stab of anxiety. Bill Scranton, the state's lieutenant governor, said that three mile island was safe, and this came from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission itself. They said that any radiation was well contained. Pintek balls up his fists. He's 27 years old. Who is he to tell thousands of residents that they should flee their homes? Based on what? One lone, anti nuclear scientist? Pintek wants to broadcast this interview. If he does, and Stern Glass is wrong, he'll look like a fool for sounding a false alarm. And more importantly, residents will likely panic. Pintek knows he has two options. Drive to the WKBO station and air the interview. Or go home, fix himself some breakfast, and pretend that he and Dr. Stern Glass never met. But right then, Pintek sees a man and faded jeans, walking hand in hand with a little girl. Pintek imagines he's a young father, walking his daughter to school. And that does it. Pintek and Glass could certainly be wrong, Pintek thinks. But the residents who live around here are Pintek's people. They deserve to hear both sides of the story. Pintek knows they have a right to protect their health and their families. Pintek looks once more at the little girl. Then he starts up the car and pulls out quickly. You turns his tires screeching and races south to the WKBO station. It's time to sound you a lorry. 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. People 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. Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's 12.30 pm on Thursday, March 29, 1979. Bill Scranton is sweating, his chest height, as he squirms into a wetsuit. He then steps into a set of coveralls which are fitted and taped to his boots. He pulls on four layers of gloves and then two men surround him as they finish checking and rechecking the seals on his head to toe white protective gear. Right now Scranton, the lieutenant governor, is in three mile islands unit two ready room. He's suiting up for a tour unlike any he's ever taken in his political career. Scranton is about to walk through a nuclear power plant as its operator struggled to contain a crisis. As he finishes suiting up, Scranton stares across the room, his mind whirling. This morning, Mike Pintek from WKBO aired a sensational interview about three mile island. Pintek spoke with a physicist named Dr. Sternglass and the researcher issued dire warnings about the threats to the public's health. Right away, the call started to pour in. Hundreds of concerned residents called the state house and asked if they were truly in danger. They were desperate to know whether they should evacuate. Scranton's office reassured them that they were safe, but many were inconsolable. That's what did it for Scranton. He decided then to drive down from Harrisburg and tour the nuclear power plant himself. He wanted to observe the plant firsthand to make his own assessment. That way he can report back to the governor and his constituents, and he'll be able to tell who's got the right information and who may be lying. In the unit two ready rooms, Scranton pulls on his face mask. He adjusts his breathing regulator and right away the sound of his own breathing drowns out everything else. The operators give him a thumbs up. Scranton returns the gesture with as much confidence as he can muster steps out into the central yard. As he walks through the yard, he feels like he's wandered into an alien landscape. Huge, windalous box structures surround concrete bunkers before cooling towers dominate the skyline. A group of technicians lead the way and Scranton follows. Soon they reach the auxiliary building and head down a set of stairs. They pass underneath metal bridges and crossover dizzying rows of tubing. Technicians explain how the pumps are now circulating coolant and bringing down the reactor's temperature so it can shut off. Scranton listens while surveying the massive pumps in the metal machinery looming in the shadows. Scranton has never given much consideration to these nuclear plants. He's always supported any electricity produced in Pennsylvania. That used to be coal, but more and more nuclear power is turning into the way of the future. At first it seemed like a good way to power the grid and bring jobs to his state. But now, as a warm bead of sweat drips down his forehead, Scranton wonders if this was a terrible mistake, a Pandora's box that should never have been opened. Scranton and the technician soon reached the bottom floor and it's then that Scranton spots a puddle of liquid on the ground. He freezes. He wonders whether it could be radioactive. Maybe there's a leak somewhere. Maybe it got on his suit and seeped in. His breath quickens. And immediately, Scranton thinks this was a bad idea, he's coming here, nuclear energy, all of it. But then a group of workers enter the basement. They start mopping up the water, talking casually to each other. Scranton tilts his head and stares. They don't seem phased in the least. So slowly, Scranton feels his fear fading away. No one around him is acting worried, he realizes, so why should he? He's probably just prey to his own irrational fears, he thinks. And the more he looks at the machinery, the more he realizes that it's just that, machine. And all machines are fixable. As he makes his way back up the stairs, Scranton thinks ahead, planning what he'll say at today's press conference. He'll report these onsite findings, and he'll be the leader to restore calm to a shaken public. A few hours later, a man takes a deep breath and steps into full body protective gear. His name is Pete Valleys, and he's the foreman who oversees radiation protection. Valleys turns and looks over to his partner, a man named Ed Hauser, the chemistry foreman for Three Mile Island. Together the two men are suiting up for what promises to be a dangerous and nerve racking expedition. All the higher ups wanted to know how badly the reactor core had been damaged, but there was only one way to get a true assessment. Someone needs to head into the reactor building to take a sample from the coolant. It's a dangerous job, one that likely means exposure to high levels of radiation. For Pete Valleys, there's only one way to do this, on his own. Valleys is a former Navy man, and so when he was asked to select a teammate for the mission, he chose himself. He didn't want to risk anyone else's life, but he soon learned it wasn't that easy. This is a two man job, and Valleys isn't a chemist, so Hauser offered to join the dangerous mission. After suiting up the two men make their way down a set of stairs into the reactor building. As they descend, Valleys feels a chill in his spine. This area was abandoned in the early hours after the accident. It feels haunted. In one room it's as though people simply vanished. There are hats and coats sitting on racks, phones off the hook, pot of coffee still three quarters full. Valleys instinctively tries to wipe his brow, forgetting that he's wearing full body protective gear. He laughs and smiles at Hauser. And then he presses forward into the building. Soon the men reach the area just outside the reactor. A large metal wall rises before them, with a door that looks like a bang fault. Valleys sets his equipment down and turns to Hauser. All right, Ed. We need to coordinate. You line up the vows on the pipe. I'll go in and get the sample. I don't keep it safe. It'll cut down our exposure. I'll time you. All right, Roger that. Valleys heads to the door of the reactor and unlocks it by turning a big metal wheel. He checks his watch and nods to Hauser. All right, ready and three, two, one. Now go, go. Hauser dashes in and heads straight for the back panel. Valleys watches through a window as Hauser turns about a dozen bals. Hauser checks the gauge and makes sure that the coolant field sample has started moving. And he bolts back through the door and shuts it. Goddamn, all right. We got coolant flowing. Nice work, nice. Now it's just 32 seconds. Hauser nods and Valleys gives him a relief grin. The first step is done. Now they have to wait for enough coolant to run through the system before taking their sample. Valleys impatiently trumps his fingers. He's well aware that with the vows open, radiation levels are now building inside the room. Finally, it's Valleys's turn. But before he takes the sample, he dashes in with his guy, your counter, and touches the tip of the probe to the sample line. An eagle and the guy, your slams to the side. Valleys then raises back out and slams the door. He turns to Hauser, his eyes wide. It's over a thousand rads on contact, you got. Without our gear, we'd be dead in 30 minutes. I just don't want to do this. Or want has nothing to do with it. You could track my time. Hauser nods. Then Valleys throws open the door and rushes inside. He holds a glass beaker under a hose. Cracks the valve open slightly. What comes out is milky and fizzing. Valleys has a piercing feeling of terror. Coolant is supposed to be clear. Before he can think about what this means, Valleys closes the valve. He wants to sample down the sink and hurries out closing the door behind him. Something's wrong, Ed. Whatever's coming out of the reactor looks like Alka's sensor. Are you sure those valves are the right ones? You need no question. I double check them, but I should check them again. Let me take the sample this time. Before Valleys can argue, Hauser opens the door and steps back inside. Valleys watches his head throbbing with worry as his friend triple checks the valve line up. Hauser then grabs a sample and takes it over to the chemistry area. Valleys paces out in the hallway. Then he spins on his feet and mutters a curse. He forgot to start his stopwatch. Even though he can already tell it's been well over a minute. He knows that Hauser has a wife and two young kids. What is taking the chemist so long? Finally Hauser bursts out of the chamber. Out of breath he confirms the finding. The coolant's appearance is anything but normal, and he suspects that the froth is caused by chemicals that the system automatically injected. Valleys frowns and squints and he mulls over what this means. Slowly adorns on him. Three mile island must be suffering from profound problems. Only that could explain so many automated safety responses. And that means something else, something even more worrying. The nuclear core must be far more damaged than anyone suspects, and this accident is very far from over. Later that evening, the sky is dark over Strine's town, Pennsylvania, just a few miles south of Three Mile Island. Christine Laman lies in bed watching the CBS News. The 21 year old can hear her neighbors outside her window, a woman and her husband fighting. A couple of kids are playing street hockey. Laman wishes she could be outside too and join the night air, but she can barely move. Laman woke up with stomach pains that felt like knives jabbing her. She was vomiting and had a fever. She'd been laid out in bed ever since. At first she thought it must be some kind of flu, but as the day wore on, Laman started to hear more about an accident at the power plant. She's heard that she isn't the only one who suddenly feels ill. As she lies in bed watching the news, Laman thanks back on last 24 hours. Yesterday, she felt fine. She'd even taken her four year old daughter hiking at Rocky Ridge Park. From the parks northern end, there were vistas that span the river and you could see the massive cooling towers of Three Mile Island. Laman remembers the steam rising from the towers. She doesn't know exactly how to describe it, but there was also a strange metallic taste in the air. At the time, she didn't pay any mind. But now she's hearing the rumors about a release of deadly radiation for the plant. Her friends have told her that a doctor out of Pittsburgh is warning people to evacuate. But then there's the lieutenant governor who came on the news and said there was no danger that everything was under control. Laman doesn't know who to trust or what to do. Just then, Laman hears a voice down the hall. It's her mother who's come to help out. She's trying to coax her granddaughter to eat dinner, but the little girl is saying she can't eat, that her stomach hurts. Laman lays her head back on the pillow exhausted. What if this isn't the flu? If there's radiation seeping out of that plant, she needs to get her young daughter out of town as quickly as possible. Because every minute they stay near Three Mile Island is another minute they could be exposed. This whole thing is a mother's worst nightmare. And Christine Laman worries that the world isn't going to wake up from this crisis anytime soon. It's the morning of March 30th, two days after the initial accident at Three Mile Island. Today in the Pennsylvania governor's office, Lieutenant Governor Bill Scranton sits staring at a large map of Pennsylvania, spread out on an antique table. Other maps lie scattered on the Persian rug near his feet. Scranton pauses and glances up across the room, where Governor Dick Thorneberg is studying his own map. In his Black Rim spectacles and Brooks Brothers suit, the 46 year old governor radiates a commanding Ivy League presence. Still Scranton knows that the two are partners as they respond to the crisis at Three Mile Island. And as bad as it's gotten, this crisis has still a chance for Scranton to prove himself a formidable leader. Scranton turns back to the map and continues to assess evacuation plans. Last night he had gone to bed believing that the accident at Three Mile Island was essentially behind them. He had seen the nuclear plant with his own eyes. Everything seemed fine, under control. He'd woken up to find out that he was wrong. Earlier this morning, Scranton received a call from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. There had just been another sizable venting of radioactive gases at Three Mile Island. A helicopter hovering over the power plant had gotten a radioactivity reading of 1200 mAh per hour. Anything over 2 mAh is considered unsafe for the public. Now all the reinsurance is Scranton received feel like a fairy tale at best. Three Mile Island has been tamed at all. And now he and the governor must decide whether they're going to evacuate local residents and if they do, where those thousands of people will go. Scranton stands up and looks toward Thornburg. Sir, it's Donnie on me. If we're going to evacuate, I think we should do it sooner rather than later. We need to take control and get ahead of this thing. Trust me Bill, I hear you. But it's not exactly a simple decision, isn't it? We only know half the variables. Did anyone at MetEd say whether they're going to be more releases? But while a real question is, can we trust a single person at that company? Scranton can see the look of worry on the governor's face. An evacuation will be chaotic and panicked as residents flee the area by car. Still Scranton knows it's the best of two bad options. They can't afford to let residents wait around like sitting ducks as three mile island releases more and more radiation. Scranton points to the map and looks to the governor, evacuating the residents who isn't ideal, not by any means. But we could start by looking at a five mile evacuation radius right around the plant. You'll know from there if need be. That's what the NRC seems to want to. What would a five mile evacuation look like? That's a lot of people on the road at one time. Scranton pulls out a more detailed map of the area around three mile island. He spreads it across the table and squints. But a moment later, Scranton stops and looks up. His face pale with worry. Look at this. Residents from York County are supposed to drive eastbound on Interstate 76. That puts both counties on a path toward the Susquehanna River Bridge. You have the same bridge, but both going opposite ways. Scranton looks up from the map and meets the governor's eyes. Up until now, an evacuation seemed like the best plan, a way to save people from a nuclear meltdown. But now Scranton feels his mouth go dry as it considers how an evacuation would actually play out. Look right here. If we evacuate, we'll have two groups of people driving as fast as they can and meeting at high speeds right here in the middle of a bridge. Dormbrook stares at the map and leans against his desk. He sighs deeply and looks at Scranton. That's going to be an accident. Of course, case scenario, people get killed. Yeah. But at the same time, if this plant is out of control, we can't just sit by and watch. We need to take action, do something. Yes, Bill, you're right. What if we take it in stages? Start with a limited voluntary evacuation. Tell pregnant women and children to leave and other residents to remain inside. All right, we can do that. I can organize emergency trucks with loudspeakers. I'll drive through the towns and tell folks to stay inside. Yeah, it's good. We'll do that. And I'll organize a press conference. We'll get the word out. Well, it seems like a plan. Are you ready? Dormbrook nods, and with that, Scranton heads to the phone and dials emergency services. As he waits for an answer, he tries to imagine how the public will react. This might be fine. They might save lives by taking this cautious approach. On the other hand, if the public anxiety is already high enough, even a small evacuation like this could cause a massive panic. It'd be like yelling fire in a crowded theater. A couple hours later, Christine Laman stands on her mother's doorstep in Manchester, Pennsylvania. Just yesterday, Laman was feeling sick to her stomach after hiking near Three Mile Island. She was terrified that she'd been poisoned by radiation. But today, Laman feels like she's recovered. Now she's driven to take action. She wants to leave town. She wants her mom to come with her. As they stand on the doorstep, her mother crosses her arms and refuses to leave. She believes that Laman is overreacting, but that'd be fine if they stay home. But Laman is convinced that nothing could be further from the truth. She has all the evidence she needs. She was just home when she heard a loudspeaker blaring from outside her house. She stepped outside and saw a fire truck racing past. Loudspeaker crackled again and issued a warning. Residents were supposed to stay inside until further notice and keep their doors and windows shut. Laman then raced back in and turned on the radio. Soon she heard the voice of Governor Thornberg. He suggested that pregnant women and young children leave the area possible. So Laman didn't waste a moment. She grabbed her daughter and headed straight to her truck. It was then she saw her other neighbors packing their cars too, getting ready to leave. Her next door neighbor was throwing guns and a chainsaw into the back of his pickup. He yelled over and told Laman that no barrier or person was going to stop him from getting out. She wasn't waiting around for the government to save his life. Shortly after Laman was dropping her foot on the gas pedal and racing toward her mother's house. As she drove she knew what she had to do. She had to pick up her mom and get her family miles away from the three mile island as fast as possible. Then they could come up with a plan. But now as she stands on her mother's porch, Laman is facing an unforeseen crisis no matter what she says her mother won't budge. Laman points toward the distant cooling towers of three mile island, explaining that the power plant is releasing poison. Her mother looks unconvinced. She says that this all sounds like made up drama. The plant looks the same to her as it always does. Laman feels her blood boiling. She wants a scream, but she has to stop herself. It won't help. Instead she tells her mother that you can't see radiation. You can't feel it either, but it can still kill you. Her mother remains defined and says that this is her home. You won't abandon it. Laman looks back at her truck. Her four year old daughter sits in front, bundled up in a blanket. Laman knows that she has to get her little girl to safety, but she can't leave behind her own mother. So she tries one more time. Laman tells her mom that there's no knowing what will happen with the reactor. It's better to be safe than sorry. She waits as her mother stares into the distance. But then her mother gently shakes her head and says she'll be fine. She'll see them soon. Laman stands, feeling frozen. She kisses her mother and then returns to the truck. As she drives away, she fights to hold onto the wheel. The body shakes with equal parts frustration and grief. She wipes her eyes, then pulls out onto the main road. There she finds herself alongside a stream of other cars and trucks, all racing away from three mile island. Laman glances at the power plant in the rearview mirror. She can't imagine what it's like for all the men and women working inside. She wonders what sort of radiation they're being exposed to. She swallows, mouth dry, as she imagines a catastrophic meltdown at three mile island. But for now, all she can do is drive. She'll speed toward her aunt's house 26 miles away. She prays. It'll be far enough. Next, on American Scambler, government officials weigh the risks of a full scale evacuation, as fear spreads across southern Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, at three mile island, a massive hydrogen bubble inside the reactor raises the threat of an even greater catastrophe. From Wondry, this is episode two of Three Mile Island Four Americans Can. A quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said. But all our dramatizations are based on historical research. What resulted for this series is Jay Samuel Walker. He is the author of the book Three Mile Island, a nuclear crisis in historical perspective, which contains more rich details about the nuclear accent. And if you'd like to learn even more about Three Mile Island, we recommend the book The Warning by Mike Gray and Ira Rose. American Scandalist hosted, edited, and executive produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship, audio editing by Molly Bogg, sound design by Derek Barrett. This episode is written by Charles Olivier, edited by Christina Malsberg, produced by Gabe Ruecker, executive producer for Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlope has for one reason. Quick note about our reenact. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said. But all our dramatizations are based on historical research. Our consultant for this series is Jay Samuel Walker. He is the author of the book Three Mile Island, a nuclear crisis in historical perspective, which contains more rich details about the nuclear accent. And if you'd like to learn even more about Three Mile Island, we recommend the book The Warning by Mike Gray and Ira Rose. American Scandalist hosted, edited, and executive produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship, audio editing by Molly Bogg, sound design by Derek Barrett. This episode is written by Charles Olivier, edited by Christina Malsberg, produced by Gabe Ruecker, executive producer for Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlope has for one reason.