This article appeared in the April 21, 1979 edition of The Nation.
Residents near the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meet the fallout threat with uncommon grace and even humor.
Once again reporters proved that when there is a disaster, or the potential of a big one, they come in huge numbers. But residents here faced the radioactive fallout and threat of complete annihilation with a suicidal grace, calmly resigning themselves to the situation regardless of the consequences.
Robert Fine, a rig operator from Harrisburg, was in a small diner 30 miles outside the city on Friday, March 30, contemplating the radioactivity down the road. "I bombed babies and children in World War II so I guess I’m getting what I deserve," he said. "I have lived a full life. It has to end sometime."
At the Harrisburg train station one woman started to flee the town, then changed her mind and walked back home. "I’ll melt before I’ll leave," she said.
This gallows humor displaced much of the fear and brought the people together to share the common experience. A radio disk jockey introduced records with "and here’s some fallout for those of you craving isotopes," as he played songs with appropriate titles–"Hot Child in the City," "Hot Line," "Disco Inferno." Bars in nearby Middletown, fearing the worst, closed on Friday. One bar was open, but deserted, with a bottle of scotch on a table next to a newspaper headlined "Fallout."
The people here were determined not to be driven out by an unseen enemy. It is hard to decide whether this was a good attitude when nuclear disaster was an imminent possibility. Reports of radioactive leakage raged throughout the week. Most of the residents didn’t believe what they couldn’t see. They were not burying their heads in the sand, but at the same time they also were not being flexible to life’s changing situations.
With all the portents of doom for Pennsylvania, journalists were stymied on how to cover the story. Since the accident on March 28, the media has relied on a handful of public relations men for their information on what was occurring at the Three Mile Island nu-clear power plant. "This is the worst case of pack journalism I have ever seen," said Curtis Wilkie, White House correspondent of The Boston Globe. "The press is greedily gobbling up whatever the public relations people tell it. It is just one big game."