Legal History of Three Mile Island

Three Mile Island-1 (TMI-1) , came on line in September 1974 at a cost of $400 million. Legal intervention was conducted by the Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power (ECNP) based in State College.

Three Mile Island-2 (TMI-2) came on line in December 1978, and was grossly over budget and behind schedule. Legal intervention was conducted by the ECNP and Three Mile Island Alert (TMIA). The plant had been on-line for just 90 days, or 1/120 of its expected operating life, before the March, 1979, accident. One billion dollars was spent to defuel the facility. Three months of nuclear power production at TMI-2 has cost close to $2 billion dollars in construction and cleanup bills; or the equivalent of over $10.6 million for every day TMI-2 produced electricity. The above mentioned costs do not include nuclear decontamination and decommissioning or restoring the site to "Greenfield."

The loss-of-coolant, core melt accident began on March 28, 1979, at 3:56 a.m. 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. Later in the day at 4:30 p.m., a press conference was convened by of Lt. Governor William Scranton:

This is an update on the incident at Three-Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant today. This situation is more complex than the company first led us to believe. We are taking more tests. And at this point, we believe there is still no danger to public health. Metropolitan Edison has given you and us conflicting information. We just concluded a meeting with company officials and hope this briefing will clear up most of your questions. There has been a release of radioactivity into the environment. The magnitude of this release is still being determined, but there is no evidence yet that it has resulted in the presence of dangerous levels. The company has informed us that from about 11 a.m. until about 1:30 p.m., Three-Mile Island discharged into the air, steam that contained detectable amounts of radiation.

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 May 22, 1979, former control room operator Harold W. Hartman, Jr. tells Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) investigators that Metropolitan Edison- General Public Utilities (GPU) had been falsifying primary-coolant, leak rate data for months prior to the accident. At least two members of management were aware of the practice. NRC investigators do not follow-up or report the allegations to the Commission. (See February 29,1984, for first-ever criminal conviction of a nuclear utility for violating the Atomic Energy Act.)

Shutdown Order issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in July, 1979.

The Atomic Safety & Licensing Board (ASLB), adjudicatory arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission set up August 9, 1979 to hear managerial, technical and financial issues.

On October 25, 1979, the NRC issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Met Ed for causing the accident. The Commission also recommended the maximum fine, $155,000, permitted under law Met Ed denied all NRC charges, but agreed to pay the NRC fine on December 15, 1979.


1980, The Susquehanna Valley Alliance, based in Lancaster, successfully prevented GPU/Met Ed from dumping 700,000 gallons of radioactive water into the Susquehanna River.

On March 6, 1980, NRC Commissioners direct that 13 "specific" "management" issues be examined by the ASLB.

On March 25, 1980, Met-GPU, blaming Babcock & Wilcox (the plant's designer) for the TMI accident, sue B&W for $500 million. (See January 24, February, 1983 and May 19, 1983, for for more information.)

GPU also filed an unsuccessful $4 billion law suit against the NRC. GPU alleged that the NRC's negligence contributed to the TMI accident.

The NRC refers leak rate falsification allegations to the Justice Department (April 1980) which begins a Grand Jury investigation.

June-July, 1980, for 11 days, Met Ed illegally vented 43,000 curies of radioactive Krypton-85 (10-year half-life; beta and gamma) and other radioactive gasses into the environment without having scrubbers in place. (See November 1980, for court ruling.)

In September, 1980, Met Ed renames itself GPU Nuclear.

TMI-1 restart hearings begin on October 15, 1980 on design/hardware issues (UCS); financial capability (TMIA); emergency planning (ANGRY) and management TMIA and the Aamodts. "Psych stress is not admitted and PANE appeals to DC Circuit

November, 1980, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the krypton venting (June-July, 1980) was illegal.


In February, 1981, a $20 million fund is set up to pay over 15,000 claims for affected area residents and business within the 25-mile radius of TMI. (See 1989 for more information.) Another $5 million is set up to establish the TMI Public Health Fund. However, several years after the establishment of the TMI Public Health Fund (1986), TMI-Alert and area political representatives unsuccessfully petitioned the federal court to remove the Fund's administrators due to nepotism and poor communication and with the community.

The NRC Commissioners dismiss financial qualification issue in March 1981. (Defueling: $987 million).

Main restart hearings end on July 9, 1981, and ASLB issues PID on management issues (August 27, 1981) which is appealed.

Restart hearing reopened on operating cheating, October 2, 1981 and conclude December 10, 1981.


On January 7, 1982, the D.C. Circuit Court decided psychological ("psych") stress does not need to be covered during the restart hearings. However, the Court ruled, that under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), psych stress must be addressed. The Court ordered an injunction on restart until a study on psych stress was conducted. (October 15, 1980 and April 19, 1983, for background developments.)

In March, 1982, the American Journal of Public Health reported: "During the first two quarters of 1978, the neonatal mortality rate within a ten-mile radius of Three Mile Island was 8.6 and 7.6 per 1,000 live births, respectively. During the first quarter of 1979, following the startup of accident prone Unit 2, the rate jumped to 17.2; it increased to 19.3 in the quarter following the accident at TMI and returned to 7.8 and 9.3, respectively, in the last two quarters of 1979." Dr. Gordon MacLeod, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Health.

On April 28, 1982, the Special Master's report found TMI managers engaged in cheating and wrongdoing; the company's response and integrity were inadequate; the company submitted "material false statements," (GPU fined $140,000 on July 22, 1983) and the company's training program ineffective and inadequate. On July 27, 1982 a Partial Initial Decision (PID) reversed the Special Master and was appealed.

On May 18, 1982, voters in Cumberland, Dauphin and Lebanon overwhelmingly supported a non-binding referendum opposing the restart of TMI-1.

The B&W trial begins on November 1, 1982; settlement reached on January 24, 1983. NRC refuses to review trial record (February 1983.)


On January 24, 1983, B&W and GPU settle out-of-court. (March 25, 1980; November 1, 1982; and, February 1983 and May 19, 1983, for background material.)

- March 22, March 27, and April 2, 1983, Three senior level plant employees, Richard Parks, Larry King, and Edwin Gischel, charge GPU and Bechtel with harassment, intimidation and circumvention cleanup safety procedure.

On April 19, 1983, the United States Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit Court's opinion on psych stress and ruled an environmental study is not necessary.

On April 26, 1983, the NRC staff explains that the basis for the need to "revalidate" GPU's management was the "open issue of the Hartman allegations concerning the falsification of leak rate data," which could "possibly affect the staff's position on management integrity."

On May 5, 1983 , GPU reveals for the first time to the NRC that management audits concluded by BETA and RHR, completed in February and March, 1983, were critical of plant operations and management.

The NRC staff withdraws it's support of GPU on May 19, 1983, but reverses itself on July 26, 1984.

On July 22, 1983, GPU is fined $140,000 for submitting material false statements to the NRC in connection with the license certification of a TMI-2 Supervisor of operations who cheated on his license requalification exam in 1979.

On October 17, 1983, a the NRC convened a pre-hearing conference on steam generator tubes (SGT). The hearing was held from July 16-18, 1984, and ASLB approved the experimental repair to TMI's SGT tubes on October 31, 1984.*

* As of January 11, 1999, TMI-1 is operating with thousands of damaged steam tubes. "...OTSG "A" has plugged 1,300 tubes and OTSG [Once Through Steam Generator] has 395 plugged tubes, totaling 1,695 plugged tubes at TMI-1. Each OTSG has 15,531 tubes. The NRC approved limit is a maximum of 2,000 total tubes plugged. GPUN has analyzed and submitted for NRC review a request to revise the tube plugging limit to 20% per OTSG, or 3,106 tubes per OTSG.

OTSG "A" has 248 tubes sleeved (one previously sleeved tube has been plugged) and OTSG "B" has 253 tubes sleeved." (AmerGen's Response to Questions and Concerns Regarding TMI-1 License Transfer Application. )

On November 7, 1983, the Department of Justice indicts Met Ed for falsifying leak rate data and destroying documents before the accident, in violation of their license, NRC regulations, and the federal criminal code.


On April 11, 1984, William Pennsyl settled out-of-court two days before an administrative law judge was scheduled to hear his case relating to GPU's refusal to allow Pennsyl to wear a respirator during cleanup activities.

On June 15, 1984, James Floyd, former TMI-2 Supervisor of operations, is indicted by a federal grand jury for cheating on 1979 licensing exams, and for causing two material false statements to be submitted to the NRC in connection with his license certification.

On July 19, 1984, an Appeal Board refuses to reopen restart hearings based the NRC's OI Investigation reports released on May 22, 1984.

August, 1984, the " TMI-9 case" concludes with jury finding nine area resident guilty of obstructing a public utility right of way. However, the Judge levels a $10 fine citing Henry David Throeau's refusal to serve in the Mexican-American War. The following week the jury issues a statement opposing the restart of TMI-1.

On November 8, 1984, the NRC notifies Congress that the Justice Department has begun a federal grand jury investigation of the NRC staff.

Restart hearings recommence on November 14, 1984. The "Dieckamp Mailgram" is heard first, and on December 19, 1984, the training program is litigated also litigated by TMIA.

On November 16, 1984 , former TMI Supervisor James Floyd is convicted in federal co (See June 15, 1984.)

On December, 1984, former NRC Investigator David Gamble testified at NRC hearings that the NRC's investigation as to whether Met Ed-GPU officials withheld information during the accident was deliberately incomplete and inaccurate. Gamble added the NRC's conclusion exonerating the Company was not supported by facts.


TMI's owners and builders paid more than $14 million for out-of-court settlements of personal injury lawsuits. The largest settlement was for a child born with Down's Syndrome.

On January 2, 1985, Ivan Smith, ASLB Chairman, sends a letter to district court asking leniency for James Floyd. The letter prompts protests from elected officials and local citizens. (See June 15 and November 6, 1984, for background data.) On January 11, 1985, the Commonwealth calls for the removal of Ivan Smith, Chair of the ASLB, for showing pervasive bias in favor of GPU. Similar motions were filed by TMI Alert and UCS. Later the NRC staff supported motions for Smith's removal. (See January 2, 1985.)

By March 24, 1985 , claims of $110 million for reduced property values and lost business revenues have yet to be paid by GPU's insurers.

On May 29, 1985 NRC votes to restart TMI-1 sets off round of appeals.

On August 12, 1985, GPU and Bechtel were fined $64,000 for cleanup worker allegations first reported on March 22, 1983.

The Supreme Court allows TMI restart on October 2, 1985. TMI-1 restarted on October 5, 1985...


April 26, 1986, Accident at Chernobyl. Elevated readings were recorded at radiation monitors in the TMI area.


On March 29, 1987, a contractor employee was arrested and charged with criminal mischief for releasing halogen gas on the ground floor of the Unit-2 control building. The employee wanted to leave work early. Total damage from the incident was approximately $50,000.

On December 1, 1987, GPU announced the firing of a TMI-2 shift supervisor for sleeping on the job. Although the employee had a record of sleeping on the job dating back to the early 1980s, GPU did not issue a warning until October 1986. Edwin Stier, former Director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, reported that 21 witnesses saw the shift supervisor asleep on the job.


On August 31, 1988, A Unit-2 operator was fired after an 11 day investigation, including a medical probe, "showed the licensed operator, who was not identified, had been drinking and taking drugs either before or after he reported to work or while he was at work."


GPU collected $560 million in insurance as a result of the TMI accident. The Company's insurers have paid over $55 million in health, economic and evacuation claims since March 1979.

On September 21, 1989 , at the TMI Advisory Panel Meeting, Dr. Michael Masnik of the NRC informed the Panel that "the NRC Office of Investigations report on the subject of management involvement in the inattentiveness issue at TMI-2 has been referred to the Justice Department and is under evaluation at this time." Dr. Masnik also acknowledged that the NRC believes there is "...wrongdoing on the part of the licensee."


On January 13, 1990, GPU was fined $50,000 for excessive radiation exposure to a worker.

On July 31, 1990 , The NRC announced "that an allegation that a shift supervisor on duty at Three Mile Unit 2 control room, during defueling operations in 1987, had sometimes slept on shift or had been otherwise inattentive to his duties, was true.

December 1990, despite legal objections from the SVA and TMI-Alert, GPU began evaporating 2.3 million gallons of accident-generated radioactive water (AGW).


From April-May 1991, the evaporator was shut down for most of this period so GPU could "rewrite the main operating procedure." The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a Notice of Violation related to evaporator operations.

In June, 1991, a Columbia University's Health Study (Susser-Hatch) published results of their findings in the American Journal of Public Health. The study actually shows a more than doubling of all observed cancers after the accident at TMI-2, including: lymphoma, leukemia, colon and the hormonal category of breast, endometrium, ovary, prostate and testis. For leukemia and lung cancers in the six to 12 km distance, the number observed was almost four times greater. In the 0-six km range, colon cancer was four times greater. The study found "a statistically significant relationship between incidence rates after the accident and residential proximity to the plant." (See August, 1996 for Wing Study.)

In September, 1991 , Standley H. Hoch, President and CEO of GPU, was forced to resign after it was disclosed he was having an affair with Susan Schepman, vice president of communications.


In October, 1992, the EFMR Monitoring Network was formed out of a Settlement with GPU Nuclear in October to Post-Defueling Monitored Storage at TMI-2.


On February 7, 1993, an Unauthorized Forced Entry into the Protected Area at Three Mile Island Unit-1. An intruder drove past TMI's guarded entrance gate, crashed through a protected area fence, crashed through the turbine building roll-up door, and hid in a darkened basement of the plant for almost four hours before being apprehended by guards.

On February 11, 1993, the NRC's top safety official Thomas Murley wasn't sure if any regulations had been violated during the incident at TMI. Nineteen days later, Samuel Collins head of the NRC's investigation team announced: "An individual can challenge the security events that currently exist.

August, 1993, the evaporation of 2.3 million gallons of AGW was completed over six months behind schedule. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, the total activity during evaporation was 658 curies of tritium or 1 to 1.3 MR dose to the public. (October 28, 1993.)

In December, 1993, GPU placed TMI-2 in Post-Defueling Monitored Storage.


October 2, 1994, The Lancaster Sunday News featured an article by David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times entitled "Case study: Three Mile Island." The essay was part of a series by Shaw criticizing the mediaıs coverage of environmental issues. Not only was the article on nuclear power based on subjective anecdotal observations, but Mr. Shaw failed to utilize any empirical data relating to the TMI accident.

Mr. Shaw stated: "But no one was killed at Three Mile Island, and an independent review found no convincing evidence of increased cancer incidence in the area in the six years after the accident." During the accident the plantıs operator reported monitors went off stack, filters became "clogged" and radiation monitoring devices were "missing." Just how much radiation was released during the accident is unclear and varies from "276 to 63,000 person-rem delivered to the general population within 50 miles" (Beya, 1984.) Since the accident, the plantıs owners General Public Utilities (GPU) and its insurers have paid over $40 million in health, economic and evacuation claims, including a $1.2 million settlement for a baby born with Downıs Syndrome. There are currently over 2,200 health suits outstanding. The investigation Mr. Shaw alludes to is most probably (since it is not referenced) the Sasser-Hutch Study (August 31, 1990) which found increased cancer levels in the TMI area.


On September 20, 1995, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a lower court's decision, and sided with GPU in allowing the Company to charge rate payers for the TMI-2 accident.


On June 4, 1996, U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo granted summary judgment to GPU and its codefendants in consolidated proceedings of more than 2,000 personal injury claims arising from the March 1979 accident at TMI.

In August, 1996, study by the University of North Carolina-Chapel-Hill, authored by Dr. Steven Wing, reviewed the Susser-Hatch (Columbia University) study released in June 1991. Dr. Wing reported "...there were reports of erythema, hair loss, vomiting, and pet death near TMI at the time of the accident...Accident doses were positively associated with cancer incidence. Associations were largest for leukemia, intermediate for lung cancer, and smallest for all cancers combined...Inhaled radionuclide contamination could differentially impact lung cancers, which show a clear dose-related increase."


On October 14, 1997, 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.


July 17, 1998, AmerGen Energy announced that it reached an Agreement with GPU to purchase TMI-1 for $100 million. The proposed sale includes $23 million for the reactor, and $77 million, payable over five years, for the nuclear fuel.

The sale does not include TMI-2,a nd GPU will retain liability for the TMI-accident health suits.


On January 14, 1999, TMI's new owners, AmerGen, entered into a Negotiated Settlement Agreement with TMIA's Chairman, Eric Epstein. The Agreement stipulates that AmerGen will maintain equipment to allow citizens to independently monitor radiation releases at TMI; ensure the TMI work force exceeds minimal NRC requirements; additional decommissioning costs will be absorbed by AmerGen; guarantees no radioactive waste generated offsite can be stored at TMI; and, AmerGen also agreed not to conduct business with any company boycotted by the U.S. for military or economic reasons.

On July 21, 1999, the NRC approved GPU's request to reduce the amount of insurance for onsite property damage from $1.06 billion to $5 million. (NRC, Exemption from Insurance Coverage Limit of 10 CFR 50.54(w) (TAC No. MA5086.)

On November 2, 1999, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals "revived the the rest of the lawsuits [1,990], citing those individuals constitutional right to have their cases heard by a jury." The Circuit Court upheld U.S. District Chief Judge Sylvia H. Rambo's "ruling on the expert testimony and the dismissal of the 10 [test cases." (Pennsylvania Law Weekly, June 12, 200). (Also refer to June 14 and August 1996 and June 12, for United States Supreme Court rejection of GPU's appeals.)


On August 8, 2000 , First Energy Corporation proposed a $4.5 billion takeover and merger of GPU. First Energy, TMI-2's new owners, agreed to provide a grant to EFMR enhance radiation monitoring around Three Mile Island.

In October, 2000, twenty-one years after the TMI-2 accident, the NRC denied a Rule request by Public Citizen to change the agency's criteria for an "extraordinary nuclear occurrence".


On April 21, 2001, AmerGen fired an engineer who worked at TMI for 20 years for possessing "computer images of children engaging in sex acts or simulated sex acts." The man faces 112 counts and was released on $50,000 bail.

On May 2, 2001, the Third Circuit Court ruled that "new theories" to support medical claims against Three Mile island will not be allowed. (Please refer to June 4 and August 1996 and November 2 1999, and July 12, 2000, for related developments.)

On September 17, 2001, TMI-Alert filed a Petition for rule making with the NRC requiring the Agency to mandate armed security guards at the entrance to all nuclear rower plants. A final decision is expected in November, 2002.

November, 2001 - TMI-2 was formally transferred from GPU Nuclear to First Energy.


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.

December 3, 2002 - The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the Summary Judgment of the United Sates District Court for the Middle District. (1999) With the demise of the 1,990 health suits, the last remaining TMI case involves 17 Route 30 business from Lancaster County. The business have claimed loss of business revenues and include Dutch Wonderland, restaurants and lodging establishments.

November, 2003, "Objectivity and Ethics in Environmental Health Science" was published by Dr. Steve Wing, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health UN-Chapel Hill. Dr. Wing discussed "research into health effects of the 1979 accident at Three Mile an example of how scientific explanations are shaped by social concepts, norms and preconceptions" (Environmental Heal Perspectives, Volume 111, Number 1, November 2003, pp. 1809-1818).

Dr Wing concluded:

"Many rural people living near TMI [Three Mile Island] had modest levels of formal schooling and little experience in being assertive with government and industry officials. Those that spoke about their experiences of physical problems from the accident endured ridicule. The Aamodts [Marjorie and Norman] were able to influence the TMI Public Health Fund's sponsored research on physical impacts of the accident by initiating their own survey, researching government records, and petitioning the NRC. Other residents who lived within the 10-mile area also conducted surveys, constructed disease maps, and documented damage to plants and animals (Osborn 1996; Three Mile Island Alert 1999.) However, when health studies were undertaken through official channels, citizens who believed they had been affected by accident emissions and their supporters were not included in the framing of the questions, study design, analysis, interpretation or communication of results. The studies themselves were funded by the nuclear industry and conducted under court-ordered constraints, and a priori assumptions precluded interpretation and observations as support for the hypotheses under investigation...

"The naive approach to objectivity, represented in the Daubert criteria, contends that scientists can produce unbiased evidence by standing apart from legal conflicts and adhering to normative science. The problem with this position is that scientific questions and the details of the specific working hypotheses emerge from conflicts, which also influence the assumptions that frame methodologies used to produce evidence and interpretations of the meaning of evidence...

"Pretending that there are no assumptions embedded in scientific methodology conceals and reenforces existing inequalities"