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The Film and More
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The American Experience
The Film & More

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Hello, I'm David McCullough. Welcome to The American Experience.

Fear of powerful forces let loose by amazing machines and amazing science is an old story in American life, from as far back as the days of steam.

You remember the scene in Huckleberry Finn. It's night on a river and suddenly a steam boat bursts out of the dark and the fog, bearing down on Huck and Jim on their raft.

"...and all of a sudden she bulged out, big and scary, with a long row of wide open furnace doors shining like red-hot teeth, and her monstrous bows and guards hanging right over us. There was a yell at us, and a jingling of bells to stop the engines, a pow-wow of cussing, and whistling steam -- and as Jim went overboard on one side, and I on the other, she came smashing straight through the raft."

Our film is about another moment of terror on another American river, in our own atomic age. The year was 1979. Yet here again were furnaces "big and scary," but they were nuclear. And again there was a very big "pow-wow of cussing," but this time among citizens, scientists, and officials.

This was reality, of course. And as word spread, the terror was felt everywhere. Even after so many years, the thought of what could have happened is enough to stop the heart.

Many of us remember where and when we heard the first bulletins from Three Mile Island. Though far away, I felt particularly connected.

Our oldest son was in college in Pennsylvania, less than a hundred miles down-wind from the site. And the governor of the state, Dick Thornburgh, was an old friend from boyhood.

I tried to imagine what it was like for him, with all those lives at stake.

Meltdown at Three Mile Island...