Dickinson College Unveils Sealed Interviews from TMI Accident

Article ID: 503852

Released: 22-Mar-2004 4:30 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Halstead Communications

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Newswise — Twenty-five years ago on March 28, in the Harrisburg, Pa. area, the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant accident caused widespread panic. President Jimmy Carter and Governor Dick Thornburgh failed to calm public fears and thousands fled to emergency shelters or left the state. The amount and effects of the radiation released are still debated.

Lonna Malmsheimer remembers TMI like it was yesterday. She was a young professor at Dickinson College, and she watched as 65 percent of the campus left in the days following the accident. By the beginning of the following week, she and a few colleagues had formed the Reaction to the Reactor Group. They and about 20 students fanned out into the community to do what social scientists do—field work.

The questionnaire they had developed was inadequate. People really wanted to talk. So they did full-fledged interviews with nearly 400 people over five months. There was an agreement to keep the interviews confidential for 25 years, but there were some immediate general conclusions: people used humor and religion to deal with the crisis and what they related the accident to depended on their age and background.

Now that the interviews can be made public, Malmsheimer, who still teaches at the college, and her colleagues and students, are posting them on a special Dickinson Web site: http://www.threemileisland.org. She can discuss:

  • The level of apathy among residents living near the plant, both then and now.

  • How local residents, kids from grade school through college and others, coped with the disaster.

  • The kinds of skills and insights her students developed during the project.

  • How residents feel today.

  • Lessons learned by social scientists as a result of TMI.

    In addition to Malmsheimer, two physics professors took soil and air samples and did numerous media interviews during the accident, and can provide historical and scientific perspective.


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