WASHINGTON, April 4, 1979 (UPI) - Government officials told Congress today the troubled Three Mile Island nuclear power plant is no longer of urgent concern and also said that Middletown, Pa., area residents have received only as much radiation as two chest X-rays.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman, Joseph Hendrie, and a number of government experts underwent a difficult cross-examination by a Senate health subcommittee before hundreds of spectators and a bank of television cameras.
Henrie acknowledged that the crippled atomic reactor is not completely cut off, but he said "it does not offer urgent concern."
"We are getting closer to a long-term shutdown," he told Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., "but we do not by any manner of means regard our situation as hunky-dory and we can all go home."
HEW Secretary Joseph Califano, answering when Hendrie was unable to provide the requested information, told Kennedy that the total radioactive dose to people within one-half mile of the reactor amounted to about two chest X-rays.
Hendrie defended the NRC monitoring of the incident. He conceded that "it is less than we would like, but it's not all that bad."
The regulatory commission was not informed of the incident at Three Mlle Island until three hours after it had occurred on Wednesday. Hendrie said there was no need to suspect the integrity of the Metropolitan Edison Co in its handling of the problem at the plant it runs.
However, he said he had to order plant officials to quit dumping irradiated water directly into the Susquehanna River in the immediate aftermath of the second major leak that occurred on Friday.
But Kennedy told Hendrie, "This system really broke down ... certainly this kind of procedure and this kind of protection for the American public is completely unacceptable and completely inadequate."
Earlier, Kennedy called for an independent agency to investigate future incidents and guaranteed medical coverage for citizens in the affected areas.
He accused the federal government of having "a poor track record ... in leveling with the American people about the health effects of low-level radiation."