A send-up of the Three Mile Island disaster

Mr. Radiation, NRC TOURS presents… THREE MILE ISLAND VACATION PACKAGE. Mechanicsburg, PA: Mr. Radiation Products[!], 1979.
Map printed in black, blue and red, 34 ½”h x 23 ¼”w at neat line plus margins. Small piece of lower-right corner torn away, well away from printed image.

An unrecorded poster by “Mr. Radiation”, sending up the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.

The worst nuclear accident in American history began at 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979 at the Three Mile Island (TMI) plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A routine maintenance procedure led to a stuck coolant valve, and a cascade of consequences and operator error resulted in a partial meltdown of the reactor core. The containment vessel was never breached, and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) report concluded that radiation release was minimal, with average exposure to the surrounding population amounting to less than half that of a chest X-ray. Nevertheless, public communication by the local utility, Pennsylvania officials and the NRC was confusing and occasionally terrifying, and some 140,000 people (of a population over 600,000) eventually evacuated.

Three Mile Island’s effect on the American nuclear industry was disastrous: Much of the public, particularly on the left, and officialdom along with it, turned against nuclear power—a turn greatly accelerated by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. In subsequent years many approved nuclear projects were halted, and it was only in 2012 that two new reactors were approved in this country, both at an existing facility in Georgia. We’re very much living with the consequences today: The greatest impact of Three Mile Island has been to hamstring the ongoing effort to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

For all that, apparently even meltdowns have their funny side. Or at least so thought “Mr. Radiation” of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, who designed this otherwise-unknown poster satirizing the events at TMI. The poster promotes a vacation package at the plant, organized by none other than NRC Tours. The package includes a tour of Reactor #2 (where the accident occurred), a ride in a hydrogen bubble (one of which exploded during the disaster), a gallon of free radioactive wastewater, &c, &c. Striking a Johnny-Carsonesque note, the tour is priced at $500 for 4 days/3 nights, but only $200 for 7 days/6 nights. Just about every square inch of the poster is covered with vignettes highlighting the fun: a toothy President Carter selling admission tickets, then-Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh trapped in a hydrogen bubble, a radioactive cocktail, lead underwear, and a bird’s-eye view of the plant itself, with a water skier in a radiation suit passing by on the Susquehanna. Sign me up.

Not exactly a map, but map adjacent, extraordinarily rare, and capturing with cleverness and good humor one of the scariest moments of the American Century.

Not in OCLC.