Wednesday, 15 July, 2009

"it's no longer a movie": Three Mile Island, The China Syndrome, and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Canada

On March 28, 1979, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania experienced a partial core meltdown. Just twelve days earlier The China Syndrome, a Hollywood blockbuster starring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, made its theatrical debut. Suddenly, the safety of nuclear energy was at the forefront of public debate.

Energy Probe, a Toronto-based organization, had long expressed concerns about the economic and environmental shortcomings of nuclear energy. As it turns out, Lawrence Solomon had just finished an anti-nuclear pamphlet the morning of the Three Mile Island accident. Upon hearing the breaking news, he quickly changed the headline to read "it's no longer a movie: it just happened in Pennsylvania (and it could happen here)". After churning off a batch on the Energy Probe Gestetner machine, staff visited nearby theatres and handed out the copies to unsuspecting moviegoers. As Solomon explained to me in an interview, "The China Syndrome ended up being a perfect fundraising opportunity for us." Funding would take on particular importance the following year, as the organization severed its relationship with the Pollution Probe Foundation and struck out on its own.


  1. I leafletted the China Syndrome Thursday night of the accident. At the Cambridge, MA office of the Clamshell Alliance, someone said "there's been a nuclear accident today", but folks said that so often, it was hard to put in context.

    I handed out the leaflets, then went to the last (9 PM) showing in Boston.

    The next morning, there were big headlines in the paper about the accident (I guess it WAS big). I had to leave town, but there was a demonstration Sunday afternoon on Boston Common of 2,500, which was organized on 48 hours notice.


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