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Town Fears Radiation From Reactor Dismantling

July 21, 1986

SAXTON, Pa. (AP) _ An attempt by General Public Utilities Corp. to take apart one of the nation’s first test commercial nuclear plants has raised fears that a 20-year- old Pandora’s Box of radioactivity will be unleashed.

″I just don’t trust them ... That’s the bottom line,″ said Jim Elder, a schoolteacher in this rural community of 16,000, about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Last week, GPU rekindled a three-year controversy when it announced it will begin dismantling three buildings within the reactor compound, including a water storage tank and two structures used in shipping radioactive wastes.

The domed reactor housing, in which 99 percent of the plant’s radiation is trapped, may also be dismantled if a study next year reveals the steel inner wall is badly corroded, GPU officials said at a public hearing attended by about 35 residents.

Some townspeople, however, who are worried about GPU’s safety record and previous contamination of the plant compound, want the reactor left intact into the next century.

Saxton Mayor Olin Horton said he is tired of the controversy. He wants the reactor disassembled and an industrial park built in its place.

″Our concern is the bad publicity. The stigma ... I think it’s time to get on with the show,″ he said.

Dedicated with local fanfare in 1962, the seven-megawatt reactor was one of the first in the nation, said Michael Roche, a spokesman for Saxton Nuclear Experimental Corp., a GPU subsidiary.

But radiation from the plant escaped accidently four times in the early 1970s and residents did not find out until nearly 10 years later.

The accidents were revealed to the public when a local newspaper discovered the NRC reports among federal records. Both the NRC and the company later assured townspeople that the radioactivity released was not harmful.

″We reported to the NRC in accordance to regulations but, for whatever reasons, no public disclosure was made,″ said GPU spokesman Gordon Tomb.

The 1979 accident at GPU’s Three Mile Island reactor near Harrisburg - the worst in the history of the nation’s commercial nuclear industry - further eroded public confidence in the company, sasid James Tydeman, who lives in nearby Liberty.

In 1983, eleven years after the reactor was shut down as a result of the leaks, GPU announced plans to begin dismantling the plant nearly 40 years ahead of schedule.

GPU officials backed off the plans when the state Public Utility Commission cut in half a request to raise $12.5 million to take down the plant after a local group, Citizens for Saxton Nuclear Experimental Corp. Safety, protested to the PUC.

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