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Three Mile Island

A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective

J. Samuel Walker (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 314 pages
ISBN: 9780520246836
January 2006
$26.95, £22.00
Other Formats Available:
Twenty-five years ago, Hollywood released The China Syndrome, featuring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas as a TVnews crew who witness what appears to be a serious accident at a nuclear power plant. In a spectacular coincidence, on March 28, 1979, less than two weeks after the movie came out, the worst accident in the history of commercial nuclear power in the United States occurred at Three Mile Island. For five days, the citizens of central Pennsylvania and the entire world, amid growing alarm, followed the efforts of authorities to prevent the crippled plant from spewing dangerous quantities of radiation into the environment. This book is the first comprehensive account of the causes, context, and consequences of the Three Mile Island crisis. In gripping prose, J. Samuel Walker captures the high human drama surrounding the accident, sets it in the context of the heated debate over nuclear power in the seventies, and analyzes the social, technical, and political issues it raised. His superb account of those frightening and confusing days will clear up misconceptions held to this day about Three Mile Island.

The heart of Walker's suspenseful narrative is a moment-by-moment account of the accident itself, in which he brings to life the players who dealt with the emergency: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the state of Pennsylvania, the White House, and a cast of scientists and reporters. He also looks at the aftermath of the accident on the surrounding area, including studies of its long-term health effects on the population, providing a fascinating window onto the politics of nuclear power and an authoritative account of a critical event in recent American history.
List of Illustrations

1. The Nuclear Power Debate
2. The Regulation of Nuclear Power
3. Defense in Depth
4. Wednesday, March 28, 1979: "This Is the Biggie"
5. Thursday, March 29: "The Danger Is Over for People Off Site"
6. Friday, March 30: "Going to Hell in a Handbasket"
7. Saturday, March 31: "You’re Causing a Panic!"
8. Sunday, April 1: "Look What We Have Done to These Fine People"
9. The Immediate Aftermath of the Accident
10. The Long-Term Effects of Three Mile Island

Essay on Sources
J. Samuel Walker is the historian of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. His previous books include Permissible Dose: A History of Radiation Protection in the Twentieth Century (California, 2000) and Containing the Atom: Nuclear Regulation in a Changing Environment, 1963-1971 (California, 1992).
"A gripping, detailed account of the accident and an analysis of its impact and significance."—Robert M. Bernero American Scientist
“As a published historian, Walker regards ‘fair and balanced’ as a standard, not just a slogan, and he meets that standard admirably.”—John Abbotts Bltn Of Atomic Scientists
“An institutional history . . . that is absolutely first-rate and with a very well told story at its core.”—William J. Hausman Enterprise & Society
“Publication of this book is timely given the renewed debate over energy production, climate change, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”—Mary Morrison Environmental Politics
“The heart of the book is a day-by-day breakdown of the accident and the reaction from politicians, media and the public, all told with simplicity and a harsh poignancy. I found the preceding chapters on the history of nuclear power and its opponents as illuminating.”—Simon Garfield Financial Times
“Gives a day-by-day account of the worst accident at a commercial nuclear power plant in U.S. history.” “This is an interesting and readable book about an important event in U.S. nuclear history.”—Mara Drogan H-Net Reviews
“Walker . . . has earned a reputation as a scrupulous, fair-minded, trustworthy, and generally centrist scholar.”—Peter J. Kuznick History: Reviews Of New Books
“A superb and balanced account, one of the few that attempts to set both the accident and the efforts to understand and cope with it into a broader historical and regulatory context. . . Although the book is not the first. . . account of the events of those tension-filled days and weeks, it is by far the clearest and most accessible.”—Http://
“An excellent overview of this important far-reaching historical event. I enthusiastically recommend this book for medical professionals and lay-persons with an interest in public health and the environment.”—Evelyn O. Talbott Jama
“It analyzes the emergency response of industry, state, and federal officials, especially the NRC.”—Jack M. Holl Journal Of American History
“Anyone wishing a more definitive treatment should consult J. Samuel Walker, Three Mile Island (Berkeley: University of California, 2004).”—Mark Aldrich Journal Of Economic History
“Whatever your take on the still glowing nuke debate, check out ‘Three Mile Island’ for a heavy dose of 1970s zeitgeist.”—Jon Rutter Lancaster Sunday News (Pa)
"Riveting . . . [The book] gives a graphic insight into the chaos and confusion of the five-day crisis."—Rob Edwards New Scientist
“The most thorough account and assessment of the nuclear accident.”—Carlin Romano Philadelphia Inquirer
“Gives a fascinating description of the decision-making process during radiological emergencies and how one should communicate with the public. . . . This book should therefore interest anyone who finds themselves at the centre of a technological emergency - scientists, journalists and public officials alike.”—Tom McKenna Physics Web
“Walker has produced a superb and balanced account, one of the few that attempts to set both the accident and the efforts to understand and cope with it into a broader historical and regulatory context. . . . Although the book is not the first . . . account of the events of those tension-filled days and weeks, it is by far the clearest and most accessible.”—Gene I. Rochlin Science (AAAS)
“Scholars concerned with the near-contemporary histories of technology, large-scale systems, and potential catastrophe will therefore wish to give the closest attention to J. Samuel Walker’s Three Mile Island: Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, a meticulous, day-to-day reconstruction of that watershed event.”—Bill Luckin Technology And Culture
“No one has written a scholarly history of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in the twenty-five years since the incident. J. Samuel Walker, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) historian, has produced what may be the last book ever needed on the subject. Walker’s thoroughly documented account is a gripping and fair minded tale of the human mistakes that nuclear industry officials and federal regulators made during the accident. . . . The author does a wonderful job of extracting riveting material that the layman can understand out of dry technical reports, memos, government documents, and depositions. This story should be required reading for anyone in business or government as an example of the failure of crisis management. . . . This book is highly recommended for all libraries and students of politics, government bureaucracy, and environmental history.”—Thomas R. Wellock The Historian
“Walker’s thoroughly documented account is a gripping and fair-minded take of the human mistakes that nuclear industry officials and federal regulators made during the accident.”—Thomas Wellock The Historian
“Just as a lacquer artist lays down layer after layer of resin, so Walker describes developments in the unfolding TMI drama by creating layer after layer of detail. I was reminded of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.”—Times Higher Ed Supplement (Thes)
“Reminiscent in its capacity to grip the imagination of the accounts of the Cuban missile crisis.”—Frank Gray World Energy Review
"A superb account of the frightening and confusing accident at Three Mile Island in the spring of 1979. Walker succeeds in providing, in suspenseful prose, the best account to date about the crisis. Drawing on the insights gained from all his work over the past twenty years, Walker puts this tale into historical context, and helps us understand the hopes and fears that surrounded atomic energy, and shows how they affected responses to the accident. Prior accounts pale in comparison to this work."—Allan M. Winkler, author of Life Under a Cloud: American Anxiety about the Atom

"This book covers a celebrated techno-political event with authority and dispassion, capturing a sense of the human frailty and heroism that proved both tragic and comic. Walker is that rare historian who exemplifies fairness and balance in a readable style. Three Mile Island details necessary background before establishing a strong narrative, weaving the participants in a drama that many of us shared but none fully understood--until now."—William Lanouette, author of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb

Runner-Up, National Council on Public History Book Award, National Council on Public History

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