Dr. Gordon MacLeod on TMI (1980)


An exceedingly rare – in fact, lost document – presented here in full is Dr. Gordon K. McLeod’s observations as the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health during Three Mile Island (TMI) power plant accident. The TMI accident occurred twelve days after Dr. MacLeod was sworn in as Secretary in March 1979.

MacLeod’s comments have deep relevancy for understanding the ongoing history of radiation exposure during the TMI incident;  his observations also have import for understanding disaster planning and risk communication. Dr. MacLeod’s paper, presented to the Physicians for Social Resposnibility in 1980,  is a case study into informed consent, dysfunctional organizational communication and planning as related to nuclear disasters.

Highlights include:

  • pg 1: “There wasn’t a book on radiation medicine in the Health Department”; the medical library was “dismantled” two years earlier. There was also,  shockingly, no Bureau of Radiation Health at the time of the accident.
  • pg 3:  During the throes of the accident, decisionmaking was “left up to the engineers and physicists.”
    Dr. MacLeod’s warning that radiation health will probably be “downplayed” until we have a “visible signs of radiation damage or citizens become concerned.”
  • pg. 6: “Health professionals have a responsibility and the society the right to know how radiation and the production of nuclear energy affects the human body and its behavior insofar as we know it.”
  • pg. 12-14: The potassium iodide distribution fiasco.

There’s a lot more in this important thirty-page document to understanding the Three Mile Island accident.

Dr. MacLeod’s powerful “TMI and the Politics of Public Health” is here.

{Thanks to friend and mentor Dr. Judith Johnsrud for providing Dr. MacLeod’s comments. Dr. Johnsrud was a NRC community intervenor during the accident}