Tracing the Fallout: Interviewing Locals
These past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to research and interview a number of locals about their personal experiences with Three Mile Island, the accident in 1979 and how that inspired them to speak up about nuclear power in the Middletown/Harrisburg community. What makes these individuals so interesting is their, for lack of a better word, utter ordinary-ness. Their lives were emblematic of classic americana culture: small town, blue collar townspeople who kept their heads down and worked hard to provide for their families. Middletown was, and is, still a quiet, heavily conservative town in which ‘normalcy’ is aspired to and activism is not. So, one can only imagine the magnitude of confusion, panic and utter disillusionment that must have ensued from the day of the accident that managed to galvanize a loose collection of concerned neighbors into a movement of organized activists.
It was so interesting to learn about these people: mothers, daycare workers, farmers, whose lives were turned upside down by the accident, and how they tried to make sense of it all. Many had had little to no education on nuclear energy, but with determination and hard work, they began to do their own research and became bonafide experts in their own right. Despite inner turmoil in the affected areas, these concerned townspeople gathered the confidence needed to question the actions of Metropolitan Edison, the NRC and the government– even taking the NRC to the Supreme Court in the mid ’80’s. Again, these were working-class folk– not lawyers or well-connected white collars– but they stood their ground against a collection of agencies. And sometimes even their own neighbors. Questioning the incident earned many of these folks the title of ‘radical;’ a term that engendered a bit of tension and fear in the affected areas surrounding TMI. To understand the evolution of thought brought upon by a single accident that could lead an individual to go from your average ‘Joe the Plumber’ to a radical (on both a micro and macro scale) has been an extremely engaging experience.
Below are a few photos from my travels through Middletown and Central PA. As you can see, it’s a rural setting. Included (from left to right) are: Doris Robb, an activist now based in Lancaster– she helped conduct health surveys & radiation monitoring around TMI, Mary Stamos– a woman who became an activist after evacuating and noticing her children’s hair fall out; she’s spent years conducting research and collecting mutated specimens of local fauna (where radiation is the prime suspect), the stacks of boxes pictured below contain her collections which might be evaluated for inclusion in the Smithsonian, and finally Jim Hurst, a member of the activist group PANE (people against nuclear energy) that took the NRC to the Supreme Court; he and his wife are proud of their garden, though, much to their chagrin, you can see the plant’s cooling towers through the bushes.