Interviews
Linda Braasch and Joyce Corrardi
Co-founders of "Concerned Mothers and Women," an activist group formed after the Three Mile Island accident.
corrardio Q: How did you both get involved in the Concerned Mothers group?

Linda: I got involved with Concerned Mothers when I finally made a decision to actively try and understand the Three Mile Island accident and what had happened. And we met up with a couple other ladies who had been involved with PANE (People Against Nuclear Energy). It was a group that came out of Middletown after the accident. And we sat around and were having some coffee, and just decided that we wanted to move in a positive direction and try and deal with it. And I think that's how we all got started with Concerned Mothers.

Joyce: Our paramount has always been the health and well being of our children and our family. And we found out that although there were other groups that were doing positive things, their focus was not that. And we wanted both government entities and industry itself to understand that we were very concerned about the health and safety issues.

Q: I understand two of the four mothers--original members of the group--developed cancer. Do you believe there's any sort of link between their cancer and the accident?

Joyce: The problem is, we don't know. And that's the problem. There should have been true in-depth health studies done on the men who were involved, working at that plant at the time of the accident, and continuous health studies done on everybody in the area, after the accident. And that is not what has happened.

Q: Linda, [can] you recount the story about the NRC meeting?

Linda: Well, I can, because it was a time when we really hadn't gotten involved with Concerned Mothers. The issue at hand, at the time, was the venting of krypton into the atmosphere. The community was very opposed to it, and there was to be an NRC meeting at Liberty Fire House, and they were going to explain the situation. The room was packed. And Beth, one of the other ladies, we sat there quietly and listened to Paula and Joyce, who had been on it from the get-go, in the front, with their definite beliefs in what had happened and what it was that they wanted to know about the health and safety of their children. And we were listening to NRC men say that this was a hypothetical question, and so on and so forth. And Joyce stood up and she said, "We do not have hypothetical children." It had hit me in such a sense that--it was the truth. We were dealing with something that was in our hearts and in our being. And it was something that had happened to us. We didn't ask for a voice in nuclear power. Three Mile Island was thrust upon us. After that meeting, we all kind of got together, and that's when we decided that we would work together and try and meet with NRC people and find out what was happening and how they were doing the clean-up, and the information that we needed each week. We visited with the NRC down in Middletown.

Joyce: We wanted to know the information firsthand. We had become so confused by, different forms of information that were given to us. And we were also very angry at the fact that we were getting conflicting information all the time, from different entities, from both the government and the nuclear power plant. And what concerned us so much was, if this was such a highly technical entity and they knew exactly what they were doing, why couldn't they give us some real answers?

Q: Bring me back to the time of the accident. Just following the accident, how was it? What was the atmosphere like around here?

Linda: Following the accident, I was evacuated for about ten days, I think it was, at least. It was after the governor had said that pregnant and pre-school children could return. The atmosphere around here was very sad. I think a lot of people were scared, and a lot of people were trying to understand. Like I said, the confusion was unbelievable. And we had lives to continue to live, and jobs to go to. And it was a very trying time, personally, for us. The fact that we had made a decision for a job opportunity to move out of state, and then found that it was more difficult to sell a house, living in Middletown, Pennsylvania, than we had anticipated. And so there was no move. And being pregnant at the time, I was not ready to deal with the accident. I think I didn't really want to know what had happened, or what could have happened. So for the first year, I think, going to that first anniversary rally that they had was a time of decision-making as to what I had to deal with it. And the baby was born, so Kevin was born, and then he had 10 fingers and 10 toes. And I think that whole pregnancy was a time for my husband and I, when that was the thing we were most concerned about. And taking care of my health, and not dealing with the situation at hand, so to speak, because I was very emotional about it. And it upset me terribly.

Joyce: At the time of the accident, I think many people were angry. And angry because their rights to make decisions were taken away from them. The accident happened on a Wednesday morning. We were not told about evacuating till Friday. So we, in essence, sat here more than a 24-hour period. That was very, very frustrating. And it angered me that I did not have the right to choose if I wanted to stay or go. And I'm sure many people would have chosen to go, and many would have chosen to stay. But that right was taken away from us. So when they denied that initial right to me, that angered me. And I wanted to know what else were they going to deny me having a right to. So that's why I got involved with going to meetings and finding out what was going on, and making a personal decision from what I acquired as information.

Linda: There was a comment about [how] the anger was so great. There was someone who said that they could understand how someone could take someone's life. They felt that much anger, that it was a time of total denial of what we are, our human dignity. And our responsibility to take care of ourselves was eliminated. And were having to deal with what the government was telling us and what the industry was telling us. And we needed more more answers.

Q: Do you think there was more radiation released than admitted to by the officials, initially?

Linda: Do I believe that there was more radiation released? I have asked that question for a long time. Initially, I know that there was radiation released. They said there was. The amount, I didn't know. But as reports came out, my question ended up being: If the core temperature at the time of the accident was stated to be 2,300 degrees, and most of the reports were founded on that, and yet when the core temperature actually came back and it was 5,200 degrees (I can't remember the exact numbers), doesn't that change the quality, quantity, and character of radiation? And weren't our questions and concerns about the health and safety and the radiation released, legitimate? To be able to find answers out, instead of fighting to prove there was an accident? I think there was radiation released, that we're not aware of what it was. And that's, I think, a question we'll probably always have. We're human dosimeters, and that's the only way we tend to work with it.

Joyce: Well, as far as the radiation goes, I know two important factors. And the first factor is that radiation is accumulative process. Once you have acquired radiation in your body, it doesn't go away. So to me, we would want to have the most minimal amount of radiation, no matter what the situation is, in our bodies.

The second is, if you choose not to find a problem, you won't. And the attitude from both the company and the NRC was: "There is no problem, there is no problem." And I believe their attitude should have been: "We don't know. We will check it out. We will do very in-depth health surveys and testing on a regular basis." And all of that was lost. Every man that worked at that power plant down there, was a human response to that accident. And they could have and should have been followed very carefully. And they were not. And that angers me, because their health and well-being is just as important as mine. And they would have been able to have given us some kind of baseline of information that would have helped us. And we do not have that.

Q: What kind of health effects, if any, do you think the accident created?

Joyce: I think the greatest health risk that we had at the time of the accident, and since then, is the high level of stress that we live under. And the second greatest is the amount of radiation that we received. And we don't know what will happen to us. Where are the case histories of what happens to a people who live next door to a nuclear power plant that's had an accident? We don't have that. And we need to have that.

Q: So you were telling me about some people that you know, whether they be friends or family, that certain things have happened to them?

Joyce: In this community, many of the people that I talk to, that have lost a loved one in their family due to cancer, cancer-related situations, say to me, you know, "Gee, do you think that might have had something to do with what happened to them at the time of the accident?" And my answer to them, and I think an honest answer to anybody is, "We don't know." We genuinely do not know. And we should be able to know. I cannot believe that in this country, in this day and age, with all the technology that we have, with the knowledge that we have acquired, that we cannot find out how to find a base for the amount of radiation that we received, and for it to be checked on, on a regular basis.

Q: Joyce, what did you mean when you had told me that only the doctors who knew what the accident meant were those who dealt with Nagasaki and Hiroshima victims?

Joyce: The story that I will tell you about, the doctors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their knowledge about radiation and radiation poisoning, was a very personal one with me. At the time of the accident, we left the area. And when we got to my mother's, which is about 40 miles from here, my son went into the bathroom and threw up, and came and got me. And I thought, "Gee, we've been under a lot of stress; it was probably just a stress-related thing." But when I went and checked, he had thrown up a vile green slime. There was no other way to explain it but that. No food. Just heavy, thick mucous. And it was the color of a commercial cleanser--very bright green. And it was very frightening. And I went to our pediatrician and I asked our pediatrician what he thought it was, and he said he genuinely didn't know.

Approximately six months later, some doctors came in who dealt with the victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. And he had asked us some questions. And when the interview was over, I asked the doctor if he would answer one of mine, and he said yes, if he could. I told him the story about my son, and he said, "Well, that's a classic case of radiation sickness poisoning," which frightened me very much. And I believe the man was being very genuine and very honest with me. So if he knew, why didn't somebody else here know?

Q: What would be your greatest complaint surrounding the nuclear power industry and the accident that happened here?

Joyce: With me, the accident that happened at Three Mile Island was the outright lying to us, the betrayal of that. And when I say "lying", I'm talking about the industry, who kept saying everything was okay and we had everything under control, and then the NRC, who is supposed to have our health and well-being as their paramount reason for doing and being. I never felt that that was their concern. I thought the promotion of nuclear power was their concern.

Linda: I can agree with what Joyce said in regards to the accident and the greatest complaint that I have about it. But I have to go a little bit further. As traumatic as the accident was, and everything that happened, I believe that having put democracy to work here in this area, and having a referendum, a non-binding referendum that said no re-start a majority voted no. And all our elected officials, our governor, senators, local congressmen, all said no to the NRC. And yet, the plant was restarted. There's no recourse we have, except democratic action. And I found that a great violation, and afterwards felt in the community a sense of, you know, sorrow. We knew we had done what was right, but it was something that the government was more powerful. It became a power game, in a sense. And that's what I think I feel violated by.

Q: How serious do you think the accident really was? Do you think we were close to having the thing blow up?

Joyce: How serious the accident was? Except for the hand of God, we would have been gone. I think that's how serious it was. I think it's that serious, that no one has ever gone into the basement of Unit 2. No human has been in there since that accident. They attempted to put robots down here, and had problems with them. So it's very serious.

Linda: I believe it was a serious accident. And Chernobyl was a serious warning that we, as a people, need to be aware of, and much more responsive to what it is we are doing to our environment. Life is a risk. If nuclear power, being part of our energy now, we need to know and work to make it safe, secure, in the sense that we, who have nothing to do with nuclear power, no vested interest except living our lives with it as a source of energy, can feel safe about it.

Q: What was the news coverage like at the time of the accident?

Joyce: I think the news coverage at the time of the accident was kind of like a feeding frenzy. And what I mean by that was, the answers given to the questions by both the press and the public were never answered. It was very ambiguous. I think sometimes it was downright misleading. And I think the press was smart enough to know that, and certainly the people in this area were smart enough to know that. So therefore, it was always more of a combative situation than an informative situation.

Q: You were explaining earlier Joyce that the evacuation plans, particularly in reference to the children, were a bit silly. Can you explain that again?

Joyce: The evacuation plans weren't silly. They were absurd. The bottom line is, if there's ever an evacuation called in this community again, it will not be easy, because there are many people here that have already been through one, and don't plan to leave in a casual manner. But they initially were going to say, they were going to bring in tractor trailers and ship the children out by tractor trailer. Then they were going to bring in buses that were commercial buses in the Harrisburg area, and ship the children out then. We are a jaded community, in the sense that we have already been through this. So if another evacuation is ever caused for whatever reason, I don't think people will be as willing to stay, and I don't think they'll leave in an orderly manner.

Q: Do you think nuclear power should be shut down?

Joyce: Should nuclear power be shut down? The way we run it now, yes. There are two very important things that have to be done when you're running nuclear power, in my opinion. And the first one is, it is such a non-forgiving technical process. And with that non-forgiving technical process comes humanity, who have quirks and problems and blurps all of their own. So right there is a conflict, in my personal opinion. The second one is that we cannot produce nuclear energy and have waste and not be able to store it someplace safely. The answer to that problem certainly isn't in the foreseeable future, that I have read. And so why would you continue a process when you don't have the answers to both of those questions?

Q: How about you, Linda? Do you think nuclear power should be shut down?

Linda: To be honest, I do not believe nuclear power can be shut down. There's too many plants all over this world. And so my approach would be to direct the question with regard to: How are we going to make nuclear power acceptable and safe? Where are we going to store the waste? And when are we going to accomplish this, so that no one ever goes through what we've experienced already?

Q: Linda, have you seen any attitudinal changes over the years?

Linda: People don't want to address the problem. There's people who think it's going to blow up. There's comments from young teenagers saying, "Well, it's our ovaries and our organs that could have been affected by the radiation that came from that plant. So we won't know the answer until we have kids." And there's older people who don't think that they know how to clean the place up, and that they just made it sound good. And there's a lot of different attitudes here. I honestly believe, though, that as a community, we stick together with this somehow, with a lot of love and that we care. There's a lot of caring, and it's a very caring community.

Q: Do many people talk about the Three Mile Island accident out here?

Linda: I don't find many people talk about it. I used to feel like I talked about it all the time. I felt like it was, you know, stamped on my chest or something. There's a lot of denial. There's a lot of "I don't care." "They don't care about us, so why TMI's part of our life." That's how I tend to think most people look at it. It's here, and there's nothing that they can do to change it.

Q: Joyce, in looking back, had you done something differently, do you think you could have shut that plant down?

Joyce: I believe with all my heart and soul, if the other three mothers and myself had not had commitments to husbands and to families and to jobs, if we would have been able to have done what the people on the other side (it was their job and they went about doing it on a 8-hour-a-day basis), we could have easily shut that plant down. Unfortunately, we neither had the resources nor the time. I think one of the things that would have helped us do that was, the people in the community believed in us and believed, when we told them something, that we were being honest with them. And neither the power plant or the NRC had that ability in this community.

Q: I heard you say earlier that you believe there were more women involved than men, in this whole fight against the power plant.

Joyce: There are many women involved in the issue concerning the power plant at TMI, the women were very concerned about their children. Not that the husbands and fathers were not. I think it was a very intimate response by women, because of their connection with giving birth and having children. I think why women stuck in there more than the men did was, the men in the community wanted to seek out and find what the problem was and resolve the problem. And I think they discovered that there were so many multi-level problems and so overwhelming that it was a fight that could not be won, so therefore, chose not to fight any longer. I will fight this issue until I have no more breath in me, because my children will be here long after I am, and I owe it to them, not to anybody else.

Q: Do you think that the technology exists to harness this power safely, and to deal with it safely?

Joyce: I believe that there are technologies that would make it safer. I believe they cost money. I believe that attitudes have to change. I have a great abiding respect for nuclear power. I think most people who work in the industry do not. And when you do not have the respect for that power, you have a blas attitude about it. And you can tie a sprocket here and turn a wrench there, and you can fix it next week. That entity cannot work that way. And until that changes, safety will not be a priority.

Q: How about you, Linda? Do you believe that there's technology that exists, where we could use this form of energy safely?

Linda: I don't really know whether there is or not. I believe that the concept of nuclear power is a good concept. You think of people who don't have any energy at all. And we're sitting here, living through a nuclear accident, trying to find out where we're going to put the waste, have good evacuation plans, have efficient health and safety standards that are acceptable to people, and we're not able to do it. In principle, nuclear power, I think,is good. But we as people need to work for the same goal and have an attitude of respect for human life. Technology was made for man, not man for technology.

Joyce: May I interject something here? Don't you find it rather absurd that we talk about the safety of nuclear power, and how safe people want to make it, and yet there are evacuation plans with every nuclear power plant? I think that says something very profound. Very profound. Because I don't think there's one nuclear power plant in this country that does not have an evacuation plan. So why do we have them?

Q: Do you feel that the plant is safe now? The radiation levels in the area are safe now?

Joyce: Well, it's safer, in the sense that Unit 2 is no longer running, thank God. But my problem with the plant and what it does today is that I don't think the attitudes in the industry have changed very much. I don't think the people who work there before the accident have changed much in attitude, that still work there after the accident. I don't know very much about the people who've come in since then.

You cannot run an entity as vastly technical as the power plant at Three Mile Island or any power plant, and say, "We are going to learn how to do a process down the road. We are going to learn how to change a filter down the road. We are going to learn what will happen if we live in a flood plain," which that nuclear power plant does, "down the road, if there's a horrendous flood." We cannot have those attitudes. We have to know what will happen before, not after.

Q: How about you, Linda? Do you feel that the plant is safe, now that radiation levels are safe?

Linda: I personally do not live in the fear of Three Mile Island. I believe that there aren't releases. The thought of there being a release would really upset me. If they were to tell us that there was a release at this stage of the game, after all we've been through, I would be very upset. Right now, I don't really think about the radiation that's there. I know that Unit 2 is damaged and that there's radiation in there that they can't go near yet. I don't like the fact that unit operates, because I know that the people's needs have not been addressed. So the fact that I have to live here with it, I am not necessarily thinking of the radiation that's released. It's not part of my thought process, I don't think. There's a lot of trust that I have, that something good is going to come out of what we've all been through.

Q: How did you perspective change over time to you now believing you're relatively safe?

Linda: I don't want to confuse you into thinking that I've accepted Three Mile Island as, you know, part of life, and it's A-OK to live by this nuclear power plant. I've accepted the fact that I do live here, next to the power plant, and that I've learned how to how to live with it and let my elected officials know how I feel about it. You can't live in fear. I think you have to deal with it the best way you can.

Q: Do you monitor areas in and around your home?

Linda: I do not have a monitor. No.

Q: How about you?

Joyce: I have had a monitor, and I am part of the monitoring system that continues around Three Mile Island. Unfortunately, they had to remove the monitor from our house, because the radiation emitting from the bricks was so great, it was affecting the ability of the monitor to give an honest reading. Why are those bricks so hot, in essence? I'd like to know. I wish someone could give me an answer.

Joyce: I don't know. I don't want to think that it's from that accident, but my gut feeling says that it might well very be.

Q: Many studies have been done, as you well know, by various organizations, some of which are connected with the industry and some of which are not. All of them seem to come out with the conclusion that they've failed to find increased health effects. So what are your feelings about that?

Joyce: First of all, I don't have much faith in the studies. I'll be very honest with you. I've been part of those studies. I have seen the studies done by the nuclear industry, particularly on the animals in the local area. I don't believe that people are dying in the streets, either. And I think that's the insidious part about the radiation that we got from the accident. I believe that it may be 20 to 30 years down the road that we might be seeing some appreciable changes in what happened to people. And we are a very mobile society. Unfortunately, everyone that was here at the time of that accident is not here, and they are not spending the money or seeking the people out to test everybody that was here at the time of the accident.

Linda: I do not believe that they know the answer to those questions yet. When Hiroshima happened and Nagasaki, it was instant, and it was a bomb. This is a nuclear power plant that had an accident, that had uncontrolled releases of radiation, that had core damage. The temperature got much higher than they had thought or imagined. And we do not know low level radiation affects on human beings. That's the comprehensive study that we look for. But as a nurse, I've taken care of people who have died of cancer. You hear about cancer deaths all over. They are decreasing to some degree, probably because of our ability to address the issue and the cancers that we can. But what about cancers that have no answers, where you have tumors in young children, and brain tumors, and different medical questions that are legitimate, that people legitimately ask these questions and want to know.

Q: The Health Physics Society believes that five rems in one year or a lifetime dose of ten rems is harmless. What is your response to that?

Joyce: Harmless to who? Harmless to infants? Or old people?

Is the study harmless to who? Harmless to infants? To old people? Those are who sick? I mean, where were their parameters for that? I have some real severe questions. And because they are in academia, and I happen to be a housewife that bakes cookies and takes care of kids, doesn't make my question any less valid.

Q: Were officials patronizing to you?

Joyce: Yes. I went to a meeting early on, after the accident. And I was asking some questions, and the people in authority at the meeting said to me, "You know, if you would only go home and bake your cookies and take care of your children, like we know you're doing, we will take care of the technical stuff." Well, if they were taking care of the technical stuff, I don't think we'd have an accident. So I know they're not taking care of the technical stuff.

Q: So do you contend, then, Joyce, that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, carries a risk?

Joyce: Yes. Right after the accident, we were told, because we got a level of radiation, that anybody in the Middletown area could have a whole body scan done by the NRC, and they were doing that to alleviate the fears of the people. So I immediately called and wanted all the members of my family scanned, which were four children and two adults. And the NRC said, "No, we can't do that. It's too expensive. You'll have to pick one." And I said, "Well, how do I pick the one? Who is the most susceptible here? Is it the youngest one? Is the oldest one? Is it the child that's going through pre-puberty? Give me a guideline to pick." And they said, quote, "Just pick one." So are they saying to me that there are no variables in this? Or was it just an excuse to try to alleviate our fears?

Q: What would you then say to that argument, that the normal emissions from nuclear power generation are tiny, compared with natural sources?

Linda: Natural sources are part of nature, and all part of God's plan. Nuclear power plants are operated by human beings and are susceptible to accidents. The normal release of radiation from a nuclear accident is determined by scientists. And it is not something that we can just accept as a OK amount, without adequate and efficient studies that people are part of.

Q: Do you think there is a difference, then, between radiation that comes from the nuclear reactors and that which comes from the natural sources?

Linda: Yes. I believe that there is a difference. What it is, I don't know. But I know that a nuclear power plant is constructed for a purpose of giving us electricity, not radiating us with radiation.

Q: Right. Do you think that radiation that comes from "natural sources" and that which comes from nuclear power plants affects the cells in the body differently?

Joyce: I'm not sure if it affects the cells in the body differently. But I can tell you, it's certainly a different kind of radiation. The radiation that comes from natural background may be only for one or two sources. From the nuclear power plant, it's alpha, gamma, and beta rays, all three. And I think that makes a vast difference.

Q: Oftentimes, people mention that because this area is one of the most concentrated with radon, that people supposedly get most of their radiation from the radon in homes. Do you feel that this is true, Joyce?

Joyce: You know, that kind of makes me laugh. I'll tell you why. It's sad to think that prior to this accident, we had no knowledge of radon. And suddenly, after the accident, it must be the radon in the homes that is affecting the natural background levels in the community. Are you going to tell me that the radiation that comes from that power plant has not been dispersed into the general atmosphere, and has not affected the background ratio of what we deal with on a daily basis here? It certainly has.

Q: I guess my question is more: Do you feel like most of the radiation that you get is from radon rather than nuclear power?

Joyce: I'm not sure I know the answer to that. And I would not be arrogant enough to say that I do. But I have not heard of the number of people dying in this community before the accident, of cancer-related illnesses, that I have since the accident. So that leads me to believe there must be some other kind of variable there.

Q: Judge Rambo threw out the entire class action suit regarding the Three Mile Island accident. Why do you think she did this? Do you think it's connected in any way with a cover-up?

Linda: I do not know why Judge Rambo threw out the case with the health issues. I found it very sad that it happened, because once again, legally, we are not addressing an issue that concerns us. Do I think it's part of a cover-up? Oh, sometimes I think this whole thing needs a Congressional investigation; we need a Human Life Amendment, where the lives of people are Constitutionally the most important thing.

Joyce: I believe that Judge Rambo threw out the cases connected with the Island purely and simply on a monetary basis. I think it is the only stumbling block left to stop nuclear power going forward. It is, at this point in time, financially not profitable to build a nuclear power plant and to run it. If they eliminate all the stumbling blocks to that process, as far as money goes, I think nuclear power will be up and cooking again, as far as trying to get new nuclear power plants online.

Q: If somebody from the industry said, "Listen, we just had this, you know, emission today, but really it's so minimal that there's nothing to be concerned about," would you believe them?

Linda: We hear that "There has been a small emission, and it's not going to harm you, so don't worry about it, or don't fear it." I mean, that's part of our life here. It's happened many times. I think I chalk it up, more than I live in fear of it.

Joyce: Absolutely and emphatically no, I wouldn't trust them. And I'll tell you why. Right after the accident happened, I went to a meeting, and I was told at this meeting that the radiation levels that my small children received were no more than a glass of wine or a cigarette. And I told the man who told me this that in the state of Pennsylvania, that children under the age of 21 who drink wine, had smoked cigarettes, it's illegal. So how could he, in his arrogance, say that my children could have radiation that was equal to the form of that, and that was acceptable?

Q: Is there anything the industry could say or do to change your mind? Any amount of evidence even?

Joyce: If they could bring Christ back to back them up. If the industry could bring Christ back to back them up, would be the only way I'd believe them.

Q: How about you? Is there any amount of evidence, anything the industry could do to change your mind?

Linda: I don't think there is anything that they can do to make me trust them. I would like to believe that they're doing the best for us, and that would take a thorough investigation of what happened, and put it in perspective.

Joyce: No way.

Linda: No way.

Joyce: No way. No way. They have violated us too many times. The industry has violated us in so many ways.


home | did you know? | maps & charts | interviews | readings | glossary | reactions | faqs | join in
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
PBS Online
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Prison StateApril 29th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS