Report Of The President's Commission On
The Accident At Three Mile Island           > TMI-2 > Kemeny

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The Accident


Commission Findings:


1.  The quality of information provided to the public in the event of a nuclear plant accident has a significant bearing on the capacity of people to respond to the accident, on their mental health, and on their willingness to accept guidance from responsible public officials.

2.  Before the accident, Met Ed had consistently asserted the overall safety of the plant, although the company had made information concerning difficulties at TMI-2 public in weekly press releases. This information was not pursued, and often not understood, by the local news media in the area; and the local news media generally failed to publish or broadcast investigative stories on the safety of the plant.

3.  Neither Met Ed nor the NRC had specific plans for providing accident information to the public and the news media.

4.  During the accident, official sources of information were often confused or ignorant of the facts. News media coverage often reflected this confusion and ignorance.

5.  Met Ed's handling of information during the first 3 days of the accident resulted in loss of its credibility as an information source with state and local officials, as well as with the news media. Part of the problem was that the utility was slow to confirm "pessimistic" news about the accident.

6.  In accordance with an informal agreement worked out between Governor Thornburgh and the White House, the release of information was centralized beginning on the third day of the accident. Under the agreement, Harold Denton of the NEC would issue all statements from the site on plant status; the Governor's office would be the sole source of comment on protective action and evacuation; and the White House would coordinate comment on the federal emergency relief effort. This agreement limited the number of sources available to the news media and while it brought some order out of the chaos in public information, it raised two problems. First, information on off-site radiation releases was not centralized in any source so that it would be readily available to the news media and the public; and second, the plan provided no specific public information role for the utility.

7.  During the first days of the accident, B&W made a conscious decision not to comment on the accident, even when company officials believed that misinformation was being made available to the public by others.

8.  The reporters who covered the accident had widely divergent skills and backgrounds. Many had no scientific background. Because too few technical briefers were supplied by NRC and the utility, and because many reporters were unfamiliar with the technology and the limits of scientific knowledge, they had difficulty understanding fully the information that was given to them. In turn, the news media had difficulty presenting this information to the public in a form that would be understandable.

a.  This difficulty was particularly acute in the reporting of information on radiation releases.

b.  They also experienced difficulty interpreting language expressing the probability of such events as a meltdown or a hydrogen explosion; this was made even more difficult when the sources of information were themselves uncertain about the probabilities.

9.  The impression exists that in news coverage of the accident, the news media presented a more alarming than reassuring view of events. Without attempting to assess how alarming the accident may n fact have been, an analysis of the sources quoted in the news media reveals, overall, a larger proportion of reassuring than alarming statements in the coverage concerning the status of the accident. In choosing quotations from both official and unofficial sources, the news media did not present only "alarming" views, but rather views on both sides of issues related to the accident.

10. A qualitative survey of 42 newspapers from around the country showed that the vast majority covered the accident in much the same way as the major suppliers of news, such as the wire services, the broadcast networks. The New York Times, and The Washington Post. A few newspapers, however, did present a more frightening and misleading impression of the accident. This impression was created through headlines and graphics, and in the selection of material to print.