Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pitt Library Showcases Three Mile Island Documents

Nancy Watson has a task on her hands that most would find overwhelming. Over one thousand full boxes of notes and documents sit in her attic, waiting to be sorted through to find a mere handful of papers. The strange part? She loves her work.

Pitt's Dick Thornburgh Archives house nearly all of the former Pennsylvania governor's personal and professional paperwork; from his time as an undergrad at Yale to his prominent role in the Three Mile Island fiasco, most of his documented life is in Watson's hands. In remembrance of the 30th anniversary of the meltdown, she has prepared an informative display for the Hillman Library at Pitt. Included in the showcase will be newspaper clippings, personal memos to staff members, wire stories to the state Capitol, and many other items from the time of the accident. Watson says Thornburgh had one of the most central roles in the entire incident. "The federal government was involved, political figures and mayors of nearby towns were involved, the company that owned the plant was involved... but the decision making, and the need to convey the news to the public... really fell to him."

Watson says there is an entire generation of young people around today that may know nothing about the Three Mile Island accident -- though it affects them more than they might know. "There were no licenses given out subsequently... The threat and the concern for safety just closed down the subject of creating and building more nuclear plants." But now that stigma is fading, however slowly, and the possibility of using nuclear energy is becoming more and more promising. Watson says if we do choose to use nuclear energy in America, we can and should take a lesson from what happened at Three Mile Island. "It has exacted caution about the safety of nuclear plants in a way that I think would not have been true if Three Mile Island had not happened," says Watson. Anyone interested in viewing Watson's display should head to the Hillman Library at Pitt, where it will be showing for the next few months.

Listen to NPR's coverage of the 30th anniversary.

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