Evacuated from College by Three Mile Island
Forty years ago this spring, Three Mile Island’s Unit 2 cooling tower malfunctioned, resulting in the worst nuclear plant accident to this day in the U.S. It was on March 28, 1979, a beautiful spring day when many of us students at Franklin and Marshall College were outside enjoying the weather. Two days later, on the Friday afternoon, my mom insisted on driving down from Bloomsburg to pick me up and take me home to a less radioactive environment. I recall feelings of both worry about what a “meltdown” might mean and young adult arrogance toward my mom that “nothing bad will happen to me, so don’t be so protective.” I took home only enough work and clothing for the weekend, since of course I would be back on Sunday afternoon, ready for my junior year spring semester to resume.
Alas, watching the network news that weekend and seeing the uncertainty among President Carter, Governor Thornburgh, and their experts, it became questionable whether I would or should return to campus. The college president was on vacation in Wales and could not be reached for several days (no cell phones!) so other college officials made the decision over the weekend to close the school for the week, since F&M was just within the 25-mile radius suggested for evacuation.
I vividly remember being rattled by the thought that I’d never return to my college campus, my dorm, my professors, my friends, or all the stuff I left behind. Also, during that week, I saw The China Syndrome, a film about a (fictional) nuclear plant meltdown, which had just come out in movie theaters. Good thing I was young and not completely sold on the connection between art and reality.
As soon as I returned to campus on Sunday, April 8, I was put right to work as a staff writer for The College Reporter, contributing to articles about the accident and its aftermath for students. Among the good news on page one: the Charlie Daniels Band concert, scheduled for the week F&M was closed, would be rescheduled.