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Roger Mattson on: The Severity of the Accident
Roger Mattson Q: Was it a serious accident?

RM: Very serious accident.

Q: Tell me about that.

RM: Well, in a major sense we were lucky at Three Mile Island that it was a -- it was bad luck that kept the operators from recognizing what was going on for so long. And, maybe "luck" isn't the right word. Maybe it's they were poorly prepared. They had a machine that could have had better design. But there were a lot of people at fault in Three Mile Island. I mean, we were lucky in that people were smart enough to gain an understanding that it was in a bad situation and that they took the right actions to keep it from getting worse. We were very close to it becoming vessel failure core melt accident. Once that molten material reaches the lower head of the vessel, if cooling water's not provided, there's nothing to keep it from slowly eating up the vessel, causing the vessel to fail and the core material, the molten core material, to leave the vessel and fall onto the floor of the containment. That would have been a much more difficult accident. It may still have been possible to confine the material within the containment, but it would have been much more difficult for us to cope with.

We had a melt-down at Three Mile Island. We melted the core down. Fifty percent of the core was destroyed or molten. Something on the order of 20 tons of uranium found its way, by flowing in a molten state, to the bottom head of the pressure vessel. That's a core melt-down. Now it didn't leave the pressure vessel. It didn't find its way into the containment. It was not the "China Syndrome," to talk about the movie that was out at the time, but it was a core melt accident. No question about it.

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