Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

In late March 1979, the nation ex­perienced its worst commercial nuclear accident as a result of techni­cal malfunctions and operator error at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear generating station near Harrisburg. The crisis, which began on Wednes­day, March 28, lasted for several days and prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents. The accident
and reaction to it are well docu­mented in official government records maintained by federal and state agencies, including the National Archives and the Pennsylvania State Archives. Currently available for pub­lic use at the Pennsylvania State Archives are files of the Pennsylvania Commission on Three Mile Island, 1979-1980 (RG 25), chaired by Lieu­tenant Governor William W. Scranton III; the gubernatorial records of Gov­ernor Dick Thornburgh, 1979-1987 (MG 404); Public Utility Commission Investigation Docket Files (RG 37); and the Harold and Lucinda Denton Papers, 1978-1999 (MG 471).

Still awaiting eventual transfer to the Archives are the health and radiation re­lated records compiled by the state Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Resources (DER), now the Department of Environmental Protec­tion. Together these records provide a comprehensive view of state government’s role in handling a nuclear crisis that will be listed among the most important events in the twenti­eth-century history of the United States. They will, as noted by Clifford L. Jones, ap­pointed DER secretary just weeks before the incident, bear witness to the dedication of governmental and power plant workers, who re­mained at their posts despite the threat to their personal safety.

They will be of immense interest to historians, environmentalists, sociolo­gists, scientists, researchers, and members of the medical and health communities.

The personal papers donated in 1999 to the Pennsylvania State Archives by Harold R. Denton, who served as Pres­ident Jimmy Carter’s personal envoy to the crippled nuclear power plant and the federal government’s chief spokesperson as Director of Nuclear Reactor Regulation for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, include let­ters of thanks from numerous central Pennsylvania residents and provide ample expression of local reaction to events as they unfolded (see “From Chaos to Calm: Remembering the Three Mile Island Crisis, An Inter­view with Harold Denton” by Kenneth C. Wolensky, Spring 2000).