Thursday, March 26, 2009


When you hear discussions of "Where were you when...?" moments, the accident at Three Mile Island is rarely in the mix. It occurred in stages, starting small, escalating, then lessening in severity days later. It wasn't just a "second" in time like man on the moon and the Kennedy assassination.

Anyway, I remember where I was when I first heard about TMI, on the afternoon of March 28th 1979, thirty years ago. I was a senior in high school. I had just picked up some pictures from a "Photo Quick" booth in Dunmore, and I was headed home on the O'Neill Highway. As always, my car radio was on, and I heard a newscast discussing the incident. It sounded serious, but not overly so. That changed as the hours wore on. A teacher in school, the next day, told us about plans to evacuate the city of Harrisburg, and the severity sunk in. There were essentially two sources of news back in the day-- radio and Cronkite. We got updates on the radio during the day, and from Walter Cronkite at 6:30 PM.

I also remember J. Kristopher, doing the weather in WNEP's backyard, holding a Geiger counter, and noting the occasional tick. It likely had nothing to do with TMI. There are many other sources of radiation floating around.

So, what have we learned? The TMI accident showed the nuclear power system works, or it doesn't work. Outside of TMI, the safety record has been good. On the other hand, you don't screw with nuclear material. All it takes is one accident. Just ask the folks in Chernobyl. Yes, American plants have better construction methods and standards than the ones built in the old Soviet Union. A comparison is perhaps unfair.

The only thing for sure, is the debate will continue as long as the uranium half-life.

By the way, all of this got me thinking about those Photo Quick booths that sprung up in shopping center parking lots around the area in the 70's. I did a Google search and couldn't find any good information or photos. They sort of looked like this, but a little more ornate.

You'd drive up, give your film to the person working inside, and your prints would be ready the next day. Remember, we're talking about the 70's here. Next day developing was still revolutionary, and getting your film developed at the Photo Quick wasn't cheap. Someone would pick up the rolls and cartridges of film in the late afternoon, develop everything in a lab somewhere else, and deliver the prints to the booth the next morning.

What a horrible job it must have been-- stuck in a tiny booth all day, no plumbing, no room to walk around. Veal was treated better.

If I remember correctly, Photo Quick was around for only a couple of years.

I actually found something from that era in an old desk drawyer. Like today, your pictures came in an envelope, and this is the back of that envelope. If you look carefully, you can see a sketch of the booth on the Beacon Film box. Click to enlarge.