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Joseph Hendrie, 98, Dies; Key Figure within the Three Mile Island Crisis

Joseph Hendrie, 98, Dies; Key Figure within the Three Mile Island Crisis


Joseph M. Hendrie, a physicist who led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission through the nation’s worst nuclear energy accident, at Three Mile Island — a mishap that chilled Americans’ belief in nuclear power for many years — died on Dec. 26 at his house in Bellport, N.Y., on Long Island. He was 98.

His daughter Barbara Hendrie confirmed the loss of life.

An knowledgeable in nuclear reactor security, Dr. Hendrie was chairman of the fee on March 28, 1979, when a industrial reactor situated on an island within the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania skilled a sudden lack of cooling water and a partial meltdown of its radioactive gasoline.

Two days later, on Dr. Hendrie’s recommendation, the governor of Pennsylvania ordered the evacuation of pregnant girls and preschool kids inside 5 miles of the world.

Minimal radioactivity was launched, and there have been no fast deaths. But official miscommunication and lingering confusion over the severity of the risk infected a long-running nationwide debate about nuclear security. Movie theaters that yr have been exhibiting “The China Syndrome,” a success thriller a couple of nuclear plant catastrophe. Nearly 200,000 protesters turned out in New York City six months after Three Mile Island for an antinuclear rally.

Dr. Hendrie, who was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 to guide the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal government company answerable for nuclear energy security, got here in as a proponent of nuclear power, criticized by environmentalists as too supportive of the business.

“My greatest problem might be to maintain nuclear energy as a viable power possibility,” he advised Newsday, his native paper, when he was appointed. He pledged to finish “the tortuous and Kafkaesque hearings” on proposed nuclear crops.

But the president fired Dr. Hendrie eight months after Three Mile Island, following a blistering report by a presidential fee that referred to as for sweeping adjustments in how nuclear crops have been constructed and controlled.

The report didn’t fault Dr. Hendrie by title. But it was essential of the regulatory fee, saying it was “unable to satisfy its duty for offering a suitable degree of security for nuclear energy crops.” Mr. Carter stated a change of management on the fee was wanted “within the spirit” of the suggestions he acquired.

Victor Gilinsky, who served on the fee with Dr. Hendrie, described him in an interview as a nonbureaucratic sort, “given to outbursts of honesty,” whose candor may have led to his dismissal.

In the times after the accident, when requested at a information convention in Maryland about worst-case situations, Dr. Hendrie had stated it is perhaps essential to evacuate residents so far as 20 miles from the location. Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania was upset, Dr. Gilinsky stated, and complained to President Carter. “That’s what pressured him out; he was giving his trustworthy opinion.”

Though he misplaced the chairman’s job, Dr. Hendrie remained one of many 5 members of the regulatory fee by means of the top of his four-year time period in June 1981. In March of that yr, President Ronald Reagan reappointed him chairman in an appearing capability.

He returned to the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., the place he had labored for twenty years earlier than becoming a member of the regulatory fee. In the Sixties, he had helped design and construct a sort of analysis reactor, the High Flux Beam Reactor, which offered very intense beams of neutrons. Scientists from far and vast got here to Brookhaven to make use of it for his or her experiments.

“He was a type of uncommon people who possessed a deep technical understanding of nuclear science and engineering and the power to efficiently handle a big and various work pressure supporting many nuclear associated actions, together with each theoretical and experimental work,” Joseph P. Indusi, a former colleague of Dr. Hendrie’s at Brookhaven, stated in an electronic mail.

In 1984, when Dr. Hendrie grew to become president of the American Nuclear Society, an expert group for nuclear engineers, he advised its publication, Nuclear News, that he had few regrets about leaving a high-profile authorities profession for a quieter lifetime of analysis.

“On steadiness, I’m glad to be out of it,” he stated. “The stress degree is excessive sufficient in order that it’s a really sporting proposition. You simply drain down your inner reserves. But it’s additionally a really thrilling enterprise, and I miss the hurrah every so often.”

Joseph Mallam Hendrie was born on March 18, 1925, in Janesville, Wis. His father, Joseph Munier Hendrie, was an government at General Motors who moved the household to the Detroit space. His mom, Pearl (Hocking) Hendrie, was a homemaker.

During World War II, Dr. Hendrie served within the Army Corps of Engineers within the Pacific. He graduated from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland (now a part of Case Western Reserve University) in 1950 with a level in physics, then earned a Ph.D. in the identical topic from Columbia University in 1957.

He met his future spouse, Elaine Kostel, an teacher at an Arthur Murray dance studio in Cleveland, on a blind date. She later labored in public relations for the Navy. She died in 2019.

Besides his daughter Barbara, Dr. Hendrie is survived by one other daughter, Susan Hendrie-Marais; a grandson; and a sister, Jane Heinemen.

In the primary unsure week after the Three Mile Island accident, there have been fears verging on panic that the reactor may soften down and launch devastating radioactivity. That by no means got here to cross, though the complete extent of the harm was not discovered till years later, when it was decided that fifty % of the reactor’s nuclear gasoline had melted.

The accident was triggered by a caught valve, compounded by human error. The consequence was that not sufficient cooling water was reaching the reactor core, which led to wreck and the discharge of a “small quantity of radioactive materials,” according to the Department of Energy.

Several studies of long-term well being results discovered no improve in a number of forms of most cancers brought on by radiation within the area.

Still, Three Mile Island froze the event of nuclear energy within the U.S. for many years. For 32 years after the accident, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued no new permits for reactors. Since 2010, solely two new reactors have come on-line, whereas a dozen shut down earlier than their licenses expired as a result of they weren’t economical.

More lately, new curiosity has arisen in nuclear energy as the biggest supply of non-carbon-emitting power at a time of heightened consciousness of the local weather disaster. Gallup polling this yr discovered extra assist for nuclear energy than at any time since 2012. The Biden administration has directed $6 billion from an infrastructure regulation to bail out economically shaky reactors, which offer about half of the nation’s carbon-free electrical energy.

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