Old enemies become new friends Nuclear plant operator, critic to monitor TMI

September 30, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- It's as if the lion and the lamb decided to be friends.

After 13 years of fears, distrust and bitter litigation, the operator of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant and one of its harshest critics agreed yesterday to work together.

In a landmark settlement, TMI's operator, GPU Nuclear Corp., said it would give residents near the facility the tools they need to independently monitor the site's radiation. Overseeing the effort will be Eric Epstein, a spokesman for Three Mile Island Alert, an anti-nuclear group that has been the utility's most tenacious opponent.

The $1 million agreement resolves several thorny issues the two sides have been battling over almost since the notorious accident in Unit 2 on March 28, 1979.

In addition to giving people the equipment to monitor radiation, GPU Nuclear has flatly promised that the Unit 2 reactor will never reopen. And it has pledged never to store radioactive wastes from outside nuclear plants on the site, which sits in the middle of the Susquehanna River off Middletown.

In exchange, Mr. Epstein has dropped his request for a hearing before a federal licensing board on GPU Nuclear's proposal to place the still highly radioactive facility in storage beginning in 1994.

"After 13 years of litigation, we thought it was time to explore other alternatives to lawsuits," said Mr. Epstein. "Years of litigation aren't good for anyone -- except attorneys."

Under the terms of the seven-year agreement, GPU Nuclear will supply Mr. Epstein with 60 hand-held radiation monitors, five air samplers, two computers, a printer and access to weather data and the utility's radiation-monitoring network.

Mr. Epstein will select three to five people to operate the monitors. Dickinson College will process and analyze the radioactive data collected by Mr. Epstein's group.

The utility will also install a device that can measure temperatures inside Unit 2's reactor vessel to help reassure people that the remaining ton of nuclear fuel scattered throughout the damaged reactor doesn't begin heating up again -- potentially causing another accident.

"To operate the radiation monitoring equipment would have cost us $250,000," Mr. Epstein said. "Now, if there is an accidental release of radiation, we can monitor it ourselves independently. I doubt that there is a better radiation monitoring network around any nuclear plant in the country."

Representatives of Mr. Epstein's group will also be given greater access to TMI internal documents and be allowed to sit in on meetings between GPU Nuclear and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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