When this film came out in 1979, "The China Syndrome" caused some sensation. Some of this was due to the fact that it was a well-crafted thriller that seemed to many viewers to create a plausible scenario for a nuclear "event" that could conceivably contaminate large stretches of the surrounding area of such a crippled plant. Such an "event" would force a complete evacuation of all residents and workers, with tremendous loss of life and long-term radiation effects in the atmosphere and ground water. It could render an area uninhabitable for decades.
The film was released shortly before the biggest nuclear accident in American history caused a partial evacuation around the Three Mile Island Plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
I remember seeing this movie in a crowded multi-plex theater one evening in Berkeley, California, shortly after the Three Mile Island incident and the concerns that the power companies in question (General Public Utilities/Metropolitan Edison) were covering up the worst of what happened. When one of the characters in the film, a nuclear physicist, is viewing some secreted footage of a power plant control center team trying to stop a nuclear core meltdown, his reply was something to the effect that this sort of accident "could have left an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable."
Many in the audience--who had not heard the line reported in the media previously--gasped aloud. Suddenly a mainstream Hollywood movie was not just a work of suspense with a political bent; it was the stuff of prophecy! Believers in a Divine Creator (of which I wasn't at the time) might have forgiven for thinking that Someone-From-On-High was trying to tell us folks something.
The film feature a powerful performance by Jack Lemmon as a plant supervisor who becomes a reluctant whistle-blower after realizing that a number of falsified documents have compromised the safety of the plant. The problem is that the plant itself is a billion-dollar project and the company managers do not want to lose their jobs by shutting it down.
This, along with the reluctance of a television station to release such gripping and unsettling news from a on-air "light news" reporter and her free-lance cameraman (played by Jane Fonda and Micheal Douglas, respectively ) from the core of the story.
The film ignited an already simmering controversy in California (and the nation at large) about further support of nuclear power plants. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on both sides of the issue that continues today. It is clear though to this blogger that, in the wake of the accidents in Chernobyl in 1986 and the three nuclear reactors at the Fukichima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in northern Japan most recently, that this is a technology with little margin for error.
A recent article in "Time" magazine lays out more of what we didn't know about the Three Mile Island Reactor accident and its damages and also what we still don't know about the ongoing Japanese disaster, a tsunami-triggered occurrence from three months back that is still ongoing.
Eight months after the Three Mile Island accident, "an Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientist declared, 'Little, if any, fuel melting occurred, even though the reactor core was uncovered. The safety systems functioned reliably.' A few years later, robotic sorties into the area revealed that half the core -- not 'little, if any' -- had melted down."
Read more: http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2011/05/16/was-fukushima-a-china-syndrome/#ixzz1PxJuJbfY