There was no warning that the pressurized reactor was going to experience a meltdown, making Three Mile Island a rapid-onset crisis. Believing that the radioactive materials were being housed properly and that containment measures were in place, the workers and managers of that day were quite surprised when alarms began ringing that there was a problem with one of the reactors. Workers believed that the warnings were just the product of a system glitch and went about their daily business of providing power to the local region (Time.com, 1979).
As time went by, the plant workers began to realize that there was a risk of the core dropping into the cooling tanks where radioactive materials are housed. This would have created a tremendous radioactive explosion or caused the core material to burn through the concrete barriers which protected it and drop radioactive material directly into the soil (Time.com). In any event, what appeared to be a minor glitch was turning into a potential ecological disaster of monumental proportions.
Only four hours after discovering the problem, a general state of emergency was issued by Metropolitan Edison, the utility operating Three Mile Island. This was important as it was the first time such an emergency state had ever been declared in relation to nuclear power plants (Library of Congress, 1999). The main trigger event which sparked all of this trouble was a stuck steam relief valve designed to ensure the careful flow of radioactive steam.
At first, Metropolitan Edison contacted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to discuss the problem and notify them of a potential radiation leak. A few hours after the initial press release about a potential release of radiation, after denying the existence of any, John Herbein, vice-president, and chief spokesman, finally admitted to the public that radiation was being leaked (Library of Congress). .