We recently rented the 1979 movie The China Syndrome from Netflix, because I wanted to see my reaction now vs. when I saw the film in theatrical release in ‘79. It was a real eye-opener.
Dated costuming elements aside, and the fact that the control room at the ‘Ventana Nuclear Plant’ was as fastidious as my mother’s kitchen counters (you could see your own reflection in them, and they were formica, not granite!), the scary and harrowing fact is that since 1979, nothing has changed.
The film, starring Jack Lemmon as Frank Codell, Control room manager who ultimately turns whistlblower, Jane Fonda as an ambitious TV news reporter, and a young Michael Douglas (who was also the producer) as her main cameraman, actually came out about two weeks before the Three Mile Island 2 (TMI-2) partial core meltdown in ‘79. (For those too young, TMI is built on Three Mile Island in the Susquehanna River in PA).
I remember when we saw the film in the theatre, we were shaken and even angrier at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and nuclear apologists than we had been (we were then waging the battle to prevent the licensing of the Shoreham Nuke plant on the north shore of Long Island). It certainly helped many an activist ramp up their commitment to the Shoreham fight, which we eventually won as having the distinction of being the first nuke not to get its license, ever, in the USA.
Then when Three Mile Island went down that slippery slope, we thought “Holy shit! It’s really happening!” It was a scary time.
Watching the film the other night, I got so hot under the collar, I almost melted down. What had made me decide to order the film was the last report I had read about the situation at Fukushima Daichi, which was, essentially, an acknowledgement of a China Syndrome event in three of the plants, (albeit they are Japan, and so they should be melting down somewhere near the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic).
I thought hey, let’s see how dated the film is. Not very. Outside of Jane Fonda’s platform shoes, not very.
The industry hype that is used to defend the first “event” (read accident) at Ventana is the exact same script the industry is using today. Let me repeat that: is the exact same script the industry is using today. Word for word.
Of course, the plant is a GE Mark 2 in the film, and Fukushima has both Mark 1 and 2 boiling water reactors (BWR’s), so those are other elements that are exactly the same. The first unit built in Fukushima was built in 1971. It was only meant to be serviceable for about 30 to 40 years. So its time was up. Of course, nobody expected it to end the way it did. In fact, I don’t think TEPCO or the Japanese government meant for it to end at all.
Think of that though, 1971 – eight years before the TMI-2 plant suffered a partial core meltdown as the result of a cooling system malfunction and a subsequent pilot valve glitch – very much like the movie. And of course, it was covered up and nobody really knew the extent to which we had almost seen the Heavenly Host in person, until much later.
So how much does this mirror the movie? Too much. I am sorry to have to report that absolutely nothing has changed since the movie, The China Syndrome, to the reality show Fukushima Daichi, except perhaps the language and duration of the lies and misrepresentations.
If you are too young to remember or to even been schooled about Three Mile Island, or to have seen the film, you should see it. Try to get past the outdated clothing (although, some old things are new again!) Watch the film, read the Tepco reports, learn about Karen Silkwood (so that some of the scenes won’t seem contrived). Then make your own judgment.
Me, I think I’d rather live at Ground Zero (old timer’s expression for: where the nuke blows), and take my chances, because as we used to say during the Cold War and the Shoreham fight, “the survivors will envy the dead.”