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

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The Accident


Supplemental Views

Supplemental View by Bruce Babbitt

It is with some misgiving that I feel compelled to add separate views to the report, for I find it to be a strong and lucid piece of work in almost every respect. Yet there are two areas where I feel the Commission stopped short of providing meaningful recommendations.

The most serious unresolved issue, in my opinion, of the entire inquiry is: Who should be allowed to run nuclear power plants?

A careful review of the the Commission findings and conclusions, along with the technical and legal staff reports upon which these are based, readily demonstrate that the utility in charge at Three Mile Island was not qualified to do and was not doing an adequate job. The record includes a listing of failures and inadequacies from maintenance to management, from operator's training to a lack of nuclear expertise at higher management levels. Our own findings state that "Met Ed did not have sufficient knowledge, expertise, and personnel to operate the plant or maintain it adequately," and that "as a result of these deficiencies, the safe operation of the TMI-2 plant was impaired."

This is a far reaching indictment of the utility in charge, the entity given the responsibility for controlling 15 billion curies of radioactivity. By the nature of its charge, the Commission explored in depth the operation capability and performance of just one nuclear utility and found it seriously wanting. But there are many indications that Met-Ed is not an aberration, and that there are other nuclear utilities that do not measure up to even minimal standards. Inevitably, this raises serious questions about who should be licensed and entrusted to run our nuclear power plants. In my view, nuclear power is far too complex and dangerous to be left to any utility that wants it -- which has been the case until now. Nor can we allow utilities to go through a learning process at the expense of the public.

As a Commission, we had a real problem coming to grips with this issue because of the time constraints on examining the characteristics of other utilities operating nuclear power plants. I can, therefore, understand the difficulties in formulating a specific recommendation at this time.

Yet I must believe that our findings do support more than what we have said here by way of recommendations. We cannot simply urge the utility, industry, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pay more attention to safety and to establish higher standards.

While this Commission has clearly addressed the institutional shortcomings of the NRC in its recommendations, it has not addressed the institutional problems of the industry.

Met Ed's operating license stems from an unquestioned assumption by the NRC, until now, that any utility that wanted to produce nuclear power could do so -- a policy that no matter how small or unsophisticated the utility, it was eventually entitled to wrap its arms around a nuclear reactor. Nuclear technology continues to proliferate throughout the industry with some 40 utilities now operating reactors and with many more waiting in the wings.

There is no question that the management quality of utilities varies much more -~ from very good to very mediocre " than other major industrial sectors, such as large chemical companies or computer manufacturers. And because utilities are necessarily monopolistic in nature, normal laws of competition do not apply; badly managed utilities suffer financial problems but somehow survive.

It is now time to assess this situation and determine which companies are qualified to handle such a technology and which companies are not. It is remarkable that this issue has not been previously confronted, but it is again a product of the "accidents can't happen" syndrome. Discriminating the good from the mediocre, the nuclear goats from the nuclear sheep, however unpalatable to the industry, must be done. One well known nuclear expert, Dr. Alvin Weinberg, has argued persuasively that the generation of nuclear power should be completely separated from the distribution of electricity and entrusted to just a few sophisticated entities with both the resources and the organizational depth to provide safe nuclear energy as their only task.

I believe that this is one area where fewer entities with more depth and expertise might be justified for the sake of public health and safety. Precisely how to control this proliferation of nuclear power management should receive a lot more study, and I strongly urge the appropriate over-sight committees to place this issue near the top of their agenda.

Second, the Commission with its limited time and resources did not pursue in detail the issue of whether facts, known by Met-Ed on the first day of the accident, were not communicated to NRC and state officials

It now appears that there is evidence to indicate that Met Ed technicians understood, within a few hours of the accident, that the nuclear core had been uncovered and that this specific information was transmitted to supervisory personnel at the plant early Wednesday. There seems to be little question that the technicians who took the temperature readings that morning understood what they found. The real question is what happened to this information and whether it was transmitted to the appropriate management personnel. It certainly did not get transmitted to responsible public officials, including Lieutenant Governor Scranton during a meeting with Met Ed that afternoon.

This incident again demonstrates the total inadequacy of the utility' internal communication system and raises serious questions about crisis management. As a Governor, it seems to me beyond question that a responsible public official must have immediate access to all available information about the status of a nuclear accident.

There is no question that this information might have influenced state and federal concerns over the need for evacuation then and subsequently. Whether or not an evacuation should have been ordered on the basis of the evidence known at the time is not particularly relevant now, but the fact of the matter is that key decision-makers those responsible for the public health and safety of the citizens did not have access to the information that was known to the utility.

This issue should be intensely scrutinized by other investigatory bodies continuing the inquiry into nuclear power and this accident.

There are still unresolved questions about what happened at Three Mile Island; the answers to these may well lead to other recommendations about the responsibilities of utilities operating nuclear reactors.


Bruce Babbitt

October 25, 1979