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The American Experience

People & Events
Harold Denton

Harold Denton Harold Denton, director of the Division of Nuclear Reactor Regulation at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was President Carter's personal representative to Harrisburg "for the duration of the problem" at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. The arrival of Denton seemed to immediately calm the frayed nerves of public officials and stem the anger of a frustrated press corps. Reporter Steve Liddick of WCMB radio explained to writer Mark Stephens that "Harold Denton was trusted because he looked like a regular, down-to-earth kind of guy. And people wanted someone to believe."

Denton's job was far from easy. It fell to him to inform Thornburgh and Carter about a possibly explosive hydrogen bubble discovered above the cooling water, at the top of the reactor pressure vessel. That bubble-and whether or not it would mix with oxygen and set off a devastating explosion -- proved to be the source of intense debate, and fueled nightmarish images of a meltdown.

At the time of Carter's arrival on Sunday morning, April 1, the question as to whether the bubble would explode was still under debate. Denton informed the president of the risk just as he was preparing to enter the plant. "...I briefed the president on this bubble and the possibility of an explosive mixture and tried to give him the two sides that were out there, but we still didn't have single view on that," Denton remembered.

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