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For all those who missed the movie either because they weren’t born, because they were busy doing other things, or for some other reason. Here’s the trailer, the wikipedia article on it, as well as some observations related to Fukushima.

China Syndrome” is a fanciful term—not intended to be taken literally—that describes a fictional worst-case result of a nuclear meltdown, where reactor components melt through their containment structures and into the underlying earth, “all the way to China.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Syndrome Apparently rooted in the old expression of digging a hole so deep that it goes half-way to China or even all the way to China. In the movie, “the plant came perilously close to the China Syndrome in which the core would have melted down into the earth, hitting groundwater and contaminating the surrounding area with radioactive steam“. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Syndrome Boy oh boy! Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Excerpts from the movie and August 2013 interview with Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear. At about 2.54, Paul Gunter remarks that “it’s very likely that the, some of the radioactive materials, the melted cores have moved into the earth“. (Yes, the RT anchor says contamination for containment, not once, but twice. Normally we would exclude this video for that reason but for the movie excerpts and Gunter’s critically important statement.) [1] Reactor 3 is the one which was running on MOX fuel and “MOX fuel tends to run hotter”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MOX_fuel

Of additional concern, there is also the periodic release of radioactive steam to the atmosphere from the exploded reactor wreckage at Unit 3. Technical experts have not been able to confidently explain what is causing the on-again off-again releases of steam to the atmosphere. Beyond Nuclear remains concerned that melted reactor core(s) material, or ‘corium’, has already burned through the concrete foundation of the reactor site and bored into the earth underneath the site where it is coming in contact with water, generating steam and creating highly radioactive plumes in the aquifer. Recovery and containment of corium material from the earth would prove extremely difficult and if unsuccessful will result in a constant uncontrolled high-level radioactive release into the biosphere far, far into the future.“From Beyond Nuclear: “New radioactive ‘Emergency’ in worsening Fukushima nuclear disaster“, AUGUST 7, 2013 http://www.beyondnuclear.org/japan/2013/8/7/new-radioactive-emergency-in-worsening-fukushima-nuclear-dis.html

We are truly surprised that anyone doubts that there was a melt-through of corium (aka “China Syndrome”). We thought it a given that it had burned through and was hanging a few cm or inches from the aquifer, if it had not reached it. This should give everyone pause over the faults found in containment with Areva’s new build in Flammanville, France, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/defects-found-in-nuclear-reactor-the-french-want-to-build-in-britain-808461.html , along with similar faults in Finland. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olkiluoto_Nuclear_Power_Plant Finland took the problem seriously, although we cannot say if it was adequate. The “fix” at Flammanville of patching the concrete is clearly inadequate, as the concrete will be weaker. Lack of experience is alleged by the new nuclear people, but they have considerably more experience than people had when the Fukushima plant was built in 1971. Flammanville is located on the English Channel and Olkiluoto on the Gulf of Bothnia, so that any accidents become everyone else’s problem. Beam me up Scotty! No sign of intelligent life. For some thoughts on Fukushima and the “China Syndrome” see: http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/forum/218/real-‘china-syndrome’.2012-08-28

Back to the Movie
From Wikipedia:
The China Syndrome is a 1979 American thriller film that tells the story of a television reporter and her cameraman who discover safety coverups at a nuclear power plant. It stars Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas, with Douglas also serving as the film’s producer. The cast features Scott Brady, James Hampton, Peter Donat, Richard Herd and Wilford Brimley. The film was directed by James Bridges and written by Bridges, Mike Gray and T. S. Cook.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Lemmon), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Fonda), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (George Jenkins, Arthur Jeph Parker) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.[3] It was also nominated for the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, and Lemmon won Best Actor for his performance.[4] The film’s script won the 1980 Writers Guild of America award.[5]

The film was released on March 16, 1979, 12 days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Coincidentally, in one scene, physicist Dr. Elliott Lowell (Donald Hotton) says that the China Syndrome would render “an area the size of Pennsylvania” permanently uninhabitable. The basis for the film came from a number of nuclear plant incidents and in particular the Brown’s Ferry Alabama Nuclear Power Plant Fire which occurred four years earlier in 1975.[6]

“China Syndrome” is a fanciful term—not intended to be taken literally—that describes a fictional worst-case result of a nuclear meltdown, where reactor components melt through their containment structures and into the underlying earth, “all the way to China.”

While visiting the (fictional) Ventana nuclear power plant outside Los Angeles, television news reporter Kimberly Wells (Fonda), her maverick cameraman Richard Adams (Douglas) and their soundman Hector Salas witness the plant going through an emergency shutdown (SCRAM). Shift Supervisor Jack Godell (Lemmon) notices an unusual vibration while grabbing his cup of coffee which he had set down; then he finds that a gauge is misreading and that the coolant is dangerously low (he thought it was overflowing). The crew manages to bring the reactor under control and can be seen celebrating and expressing relief.

Richard surreptitiously films the incident, despite being requested to not film the control room for security purposes. Kimberly’s superior at work (Donat) refuses to permit her to report what happened or show the film, disgusting Richard, who steals the footage. He shows it to experts, who conclude that the plant came perilously close to the China Syndrome in which the core would have melted down into the earth, hitting groundwater and contaminating the surrounding area with radioactive steam.

During an inspection of the plant before it’s brought back online, a technician discovers a small puddle of radioactive water that has apparently leaked from a pump. Godell pushes to delay restarting the plant, but the plant superintendent denies his request and appears willing to let nothing come in the way of the scheduled restart of the plant.

Godell investigates further and to his horror find that radiographs supposedly taken to periodically verify the integrity of welds on the leaking pump are identical – the contractor simply kept submitting the first picture. He believes that the plant is unsafe and could be severely damaged if another full-power SCRAM occurs. He tries to bring the evidence to plant manager Herman DeYoung (Brady), who brushes off Godell as paranoid and states that new radiographs would cost at least $20 million. Godell confronts D.B. Royce, an employee of Foster-Sullivan, the construction company who built the plant, as it was Royce who signed off on the welding radiographs. Godell threatens to go to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but Royce threatens him, and later a pair of goons from Foster-Sullivan park outside his house.

Kimberly also defies her bosses, determined to pursue the truth. She and Richard confront Godell at his home with what they know, and he voices his concern about the vibration he felt during the SCRAM and his anger about the false radiographs. Kimberly and Richard ask if he’ll come clean at NRC hearings, being held at Point Conception, where Foster-Sullivan is looking to build another nuclear plant. Godell agrees to obtain for them, through Hector, a set of the false radiographs to take to the hearings.

Hector’s car is run off the road and the radiographs are taken from him. Godell leaves for the hearings but is chased by the goons waiting outside his home. He escapes by taking refuge inside the plant.

To his dismay, Godell finds that the reactor is being brought up to full power. He grabs a gun from a security guard and forces everyone out, including his friend and co-worker Ted Spindler (Brimley). Godell demands to be interviewed on live television by Kimberly. Plant management agrees to the interview, but only to buy time as they try to regain control of the plant.

Minutes into the broadcast, plant technicians deliberately cause a SCRAM so they can retake the control room, despite Spindler’s warnings of Godell’s concerns about safety. Godell is distracted by the alarms as a SWAT team forces its way into the control room. The television cable is cut and a panicky Godell is shot by the police. Before dying, he feels the unusual vibration again. The resulting SCRAM is harrowing to all and is only brought under control by the plant’s automatic systems. True to Godell’s predictions, the plant suffers significant damage as the pump malfunctions.

Plant officials try to paint Godell as emotionally disturbed. Spindler contradicts them when a question is posed to him on live television by Kimberly, saying that Godell was not crazy and would never have taken such drastic steps had there not been something wrong. A tearful Kimberly concludes her report as the TV signal abruptly cuts to color bars.


Jane Fonda as Kimberly Wells
Jack Lemmon as Jack Godell
Michael Douglas as Richard Adams
Scott Brady as Herman DeYoung
Wilford Brimley as Ted Spindler
James Hampton as Bill Gibson
Peter Donat as Don Jacovich
Richard Herd as Evan McCormack
Daniel Valdez as Hector Salas


Roger Ebert reviewed it as “is a terrific thriller that incidentally raises the most unsettling questions about how safe nuclear power plants really are”, along with “well-acted, well-crafted, scary as hell. The events leading up to the “accident” in The China Syndrome are indeed based on actual occurrences at nuclear plants. Even the most unlikely mishap…really happened at the Dresden plant outside Chicago. And yet the movie works so well not because of its factual basis, but because of its human content. The performances are so good, so consistently, that The China Syndrome becomes a thriller dealing in personal values.”

Movie Reviews UK noted the film is “so accurate that, even though they’re fictional, they could easily be documentaries…we see the greatest fears of the Nimby culture unearthed when a nuclear power station almost goes out of control and the men-in-suits cover it up…[unknown] to them, the entire incident is covertly filmed by a visiting TV news-crew”. The acting is credited also, “The power of this film is more than just the acting, although Lemmon is superb, and more than just the script. It is that this scenario could really happen…atmosphere produced in the plants’ control-room is heart-stoppingly intense”, while the “characters are uniformly well-acted. I recommend The China Syndrome to everyone as an example of the dangers of money and corruption.“[8]

The film has a positive rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes[9] and a 7.3/10 from 14,622 participants.[10]

The March 16, 1979 release was met with backlash from the nuclear power industry’s claims of it being “sheer fiction” and a “character assassination of an entire industry.” Twelve days later, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The events left the nuclear industry regretting their negative public relations.[11] While some credit the accident’s timing in helping to sell tickets,[12][13] the studio attempted to avoid appearing as if it were exploiting the accident, which included pulling the film from some theaters.[14]

A cycle of 1980s films about nuclear power also included Silkwood, Testament, Threads, Special Bulletin, The Day After, Barefoot Gen, Rules of Engagement,[15] When the Wind Blows, Letters from a Dead Man (Pisma myortvogo cheloveka), and Memoirs of a Survivor.

1 The China Syndrome, Overview. Retrieved April 2, 2013
2 Box Office Information for The China Syndrome”. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
3 “NY Times: The China Syndrome”. NY Times. Retrieved December 31, 2008.
4 “Festival de Cannes: The China Syndrome”. festival-cannes.com. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
5 The China Syndrome (1979) – Awards
6 http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0078966/trivia?item=tr1427991
7 Ebert, Roger (1979-01-01). “The China Syndrome Movie Review (1979)”. Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
8 “The China Syndrome (1979)”. Film.u-net.com. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
9 “The China Syndrome”. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
10 http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0078966/ratings?ref_=tt_ov_rt
11 http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0078966/trivia?item=tr1842502
12 “The China Syndrome: Special Edition”. Dvdverdict.com. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
13 Top grossing movies for 1979 in the USA
14 Movies That Shook the World, American Movie Classics 2006.
15 http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0344712/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_China_Syndrome (Complete reference links at wikipedia link; bold added for emphasis)
Besides the cases mentioned, some aspects appear to have their roots in the Karen Silkwood case.

Note 1: RT anchor said contamination for containment not just once but twice! We will be nice and not say what we think.

Regarding a real California nuclear power plant on a fault line:
Diablo Canyon earthquake vulnerability