Chronology of Emergency Preparedness Problems at Three Mile Island

March 28, 1979, 4:00 am: Beginning of the Three Mile Island (TMI) Unit-2 loss-of-coolant, core melt accident. The plant came within 30 minutes of a full meltdown. The reactor vessel was destroyed, and large amounts of unmonitored radiation was released directly into the community.

On March 30, 1979, Governor Richard Thornburgh recommended an evacuation for preschool children and pregnant women living within five miles of the plant. Out of a target population of 5,000, over 140,000 Central Pennsylvanians fled the area. Schools in the area closed.

The U.S. House of Representatives committee examining reporting information during the accident concluded:

The record indicates that in reporting to State and federal officials on March 28, 1979, TMI managers did not communicate information in their possession that they understood to be related to the severity of the situation. The lack of such information prevented State and federal officials from accurately assessing the condition of the plant. In addition, the record indicates that TMI managers presented State and federal officials misleading statements (i.e. statements that were inaccurate and incomplete) that conveyed the impression the accident was substantially less severe and the situation more under control than what the managers themselves believed and what was in fact the case.

These findings were similar to conclusions drawn by the Kemeny Commission on October 30, 1979. The Commission was appointed by President Jimmy Carter and found human error, institutional weaknesses and mechanical failures caused the TMI accident.

On February 29, 1984, a plea bargain between the Department of Justice and Met Ed was settled. The Company agreed to pay a $45,000 fine, and establish a $1 million dollar interest-bearing account to be used by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

On May 9, 1987, due to a considerable loss of communications, an Unusual Event was declared at Three Mile Island. Twenty-three dedicated emergency phone lines, commercial lines and the NRC's Emergency Notification System were inoperable.

Less than a month later on June 2, 1987, GPU failed to submit, within the required time period (30 days), changes they made in their emergency plan The NRC issued a Severity Level IV Violation (November 11, 1987).

On August 11, 1993, the NRC issued two Notice of Violations relating to emergency preparedness (EP). One violation occurred during the EP exercise conducted from June 7-11, 1993 and involved adequacy of fire protection exit provisions. The other violation dated back to February 7, 1993, and is related to a delay in callout of the emergency response organization. The latter violation was "considered for escalated enforcement" (NRC Inspection Report, 50-289/93-08.)

On May 19, 1994, "...operators failed to recognize that the high range condenser offgas radiation monitor (RM-A-5) was greater than the high alarm setpoint, a condition requiring an Alert declaration. Channel RM-A-5 was in alarm for approximately one hour before the alert condition was recognized. The NRC considered this oversight to an [emergency preparedness] exercise weakness" (IR 50-289/95-05.)

More problems relating to the RM-A-5 took place on February 18, and March 21, 28 & 29, 1999.

On July 11, 1994, the NRC found: "Overall, your on-site response during the Annual Emergency Preparedness Exercise was acceptable. However, the approximately one hour delay in recognizing plant conditions warranted upgrading the emergency classification to an Alert is considered to be a significant weakness" (Jacques P. Durr, Chief, Projects No. 4, Division of Power Reactors, NRC.)

On June 2, 1995, more problem's were identified with TMI's emergency preparedness: "An exercise weakness was identified in the area off-site dose assessment and projection...One unresolved item was identified concerning your protective action recommendation (PAR) logic's conformity with Federal guidance...Your PAR logic diagram's methodology is overly reliant on evacuation time estimates and release duration, without due consideration of radiation doses that could be received" (James H. Joyner, Chief, Facilities Radiological Safety and Safeguards Branch, Division of Radiation Safety and Safeguards, NRC.)

On October 14, 1996, GPU agreed to pay a $210,000 fine for violations identified by the NRC between November 1996 and May 1997 including: inadequate engineering design controls; improperly downgrading safety equipment; and, inadequate implementation of the plant's emergency preparedness program (See March 5, 1997, for background information.)

On March 5, 1997, GPU failed an emergency preparedness drill! The Company agreed (October 14, 1997) to pay a $210,000 fine for violations identified by the NRC between November 1996 and May 1997 including: inadequate engineering design controls; improperly downgrading safety equipment; and, inadequate implementation of the plant's emergency preparedness program.

March 12, 1997 - During an emergency preparedness exercise, NRC, Hubert J. Miller, Regional Administrator, reported the following problems:

"The NRC inspection team identified four exercise weaknesses, as follows:
  1. the emergency response organization (ERO) failed to recognize a General Emergency when warranted by plant conditions;
  2. the ERO staff incorrectly evaluated steam generator tube leakage;
  3. the technical analysis of simulated accident conditions provided to ERO managers by the Technical Support Staff Center was inadequate; and
  4. the Emergency Operations Facility staff did not initiate protective action recommendations to off site officials for residents outside of the 10-mile emergency planning zone when dose projections appeared to indicate that protective action guidelines would be exceeded.
During the post-exercise critique, your organization identified several significant problems, but did not identify weaknesses 2 & 4 above. Additionally, it appeared us that your critique emphasized the impact of the simulation and procedural deficiencies rather than the identified problems...the NRC views the identified weaknesses and problems as important findings, requiring prompt corrective action."

On June 27, 1997, the NRC concluded: "Remediation of the four weaknesses displayed during the March [Emergency preparedness] exercise was adequately demonstrated during this exercise...However, two of those weaknesses (i.e., the failure to recognize a General Emergency condition, and the failure to assess the need for a protective action recommendation (PAR) outside of 10 miles) are apparent violations which remain open, pending consideration of escalated enforcement action ..."

February 26, 1998 - The SALP evaluation period for August 5, 1996- January 24, 1998 produced more criticism of Emergency Planning at Three Mile island. Hubert J. Miller, NRC, Regional Administrator, noted:

...Some significant problems were identified during the March 1997 emergency drill, which required a remedial drill be conducted. These performance problems highlighted ineffective management in the emergency preparedness area.

September 30, 1998 - The NRC evaluated the emergency preparedness drill: "A notable deficiency was the failure to complete the necessary off-site agency notifications within the required fifteen minutes after both of the drill event declarations. This deficiency is being classified as an exercise weakness requiring corrective action" (IR 50-289/98-07.)

On June 22, 2001, after widespread public criticism, AmerGen "notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it intends to delay submitting its application seeking approval for a standardized emergency plan for Three Mile Island, Peach Bottom and Limerick" (Exelon Nuclear, Press Release, June 22, 2001)

July 25, 2002 - Exelon submitted plans to the NRC to move the Emergency Operations Facility. Despite pledges to notify local offcials, the public was not notified until a week later by the NRC.

On November 7, 2001, Exelon met with the NRC to discuss the consolidation of Emergency Plans for TMI, Peach Bottom and Limerick. The presentation was conducted by William Jefferson, Director, Generation Support, Exelon Nuclear, Mid Atlantic Regional Operating Group. Exelon requested the plans be approved and implemented by January 2, 2002. The following personnel (17), including a "Security Coordinator" would be affected:

TMI Emergency Plan Positions Affected:

4 Technicians
1 On-Site OSC Coordinator
1 Dose Assessor
1 Off-Site Field Team Member
1 Communicator
1 Security Coordinator
2 Auxiliary Operators

On September 5, 2002, Three Mile Island Alert filed a formal Petition for Rulemaking with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to include day-care centers and nursery schools in emergency evacuation planning. The proposed rule would affect all 103 operating nuclear plants in the United States.
The nuclear industry opposed the Petition.

In September, 2003, Governor Ed Rendell (D) of Pennsylvania unveiled a plan in to upgrade all-hazard evacuation plans for all day care centers.