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  • Lake Barrett (Independent Consultant): "Nuclear Emergency Response at Three Mile Island"

    AbstractThe March 28, 1979 Three Mile Island Reactor Unit 2, was the first and only major commercial power reactor accident in the United States, and posed an extreme challenge, with everlasting impacts, on all organizations involved. The reactor was internally destroyed, but the fundamental safety systems prevented any significant release of radioactivity to the environment. However, the reality of the situation in those early days was very uncertain, and the national, state, and local emergency management capabilities were severely strained beyond what had ever been imagined. Mr. Barrett was a technical member of the US NRC response team, initially in Washington Headquarters and later at the reactor site. He was sent to the site to help with reactor stabilization and radiological control, became a member of the NRC’s initial Lessons Learned Team, and served as the US NRC Director of the TMI onsite office from 1980 to 1984. In this presentation, he replays what really happened during those traumatic first weeks of the emergency by addressing the causes and impacts of the accident, the response by the operator/owner responses, the state of Pennsylvania, the NRC, and the media, as well as federal government support activities, and impacts on the local, regional, and general publics. He will discuss decisions that he and others made, decision ramifications, and lessons learned. He will address what the emergency response system plans were before the accident, how those fared during the accident, and what was improved after the accident.

    Lake H. Barrett has worked in nuclear energy and nuclear materials management for five decades. He currently serves as special advisor to Japan for the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Earlier in his career, he served as the head of the DOE’s Office of Civilian Nuclear Waste Management, which was responsible for implementing the United Sates’ programs for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste as mandated by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. In that capacity, he led the Yucca Mountain Geologic Repository program through the statutory site selection process culminating with the Presidential site designation and followed by successful House and Senate votes. He also served at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he was directly involved with the early response to the Three Mile Island reactor accident. As Site Director, he was responsible for regulatory programs during the stabilization, recovery, and cleanup of the damaged reactor. Mr. Barrett has also had extensive managerial and engineering experiences in DOE’s Defense Programs and private industry at both Bechtel, with commercial nuclear power plants, and General Dynamics with nuclear reactor and submarine systems design, operation, and decommissioning. He has degrees in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering and has been the recipient of various Presidential and Congressional honors.

    About the seminar series: This lecture continues a speaker series featuring leading international experts on nuclear emergency response. Part of an NSF CAREER Award (PI Sonja Schmid) and hosted by Virginia Tech’s Department of Science, Technology, and Society, with generous support from the Office of the Vice President for the National Capital Region and the Policy Strategic Growth Area.

    • Light refreshments will be served.
    • Graduate students are encouraged to arrive at 11:30 to chat with the speakers before his talk.
    • The URL to the online version of the event is for anyone who'd like to join remotely.
    • To submit a question to the speaker, please e-mail it to

    If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Sonja Schmid at 703-538-8482 or email during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.

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