During a discussion or symposium on Nuclear power, a group of scientists from around the world were discussing the theoretical consequences of a meltdown.

If the reactor undergoes a catastrophic loss of coolant, the reactor and its rods will overheat. With nothing to cool them down, the heat will increase until it begins to melt the reactor. Once it gets that hot, if it comes in contact with the water/coolant, it will flash it to steam and cause an explosion such as what happened at Chernobyl. The fuel, either Uranium or Plutonium, will reach such an extreme temperature that it wil melt together into a lava-like clump, called slag.

Once it becomes slag, there is no stopping it. It gets so hot that it melts through the container, no matter how much coolant you dump on it. The lump has reached critical mass, and begins to melt through the ground, because of gravity. The radiation is very intense, and the temperature is well above 10,000 degrees (Farenheit or Celsius, take your pick). At this point everything surrounding it is on fire, including concrete.

The molten core and slag is so hot that it burns a hole right into the ground from gravity, and keeps going. If this happened in America, the scientist reasoned, it would come out the other side in China.

The last assumption is Wrong. First, once you travel past the center of the earth, you have to go against gravity, ie UP to get to China. Second, scientists have concluded that the hole bored into the ground would reach 30 feet in depth, which is bad enough. The scientist was grossly exaggerating, but not everyone knew that.

What would stop it? Water. Once you go deep enough, you'll hit an underground aquifer. Of course, it could create an explosion of radioactive steam, blowing the roof off if it hasn't already, and contaminating the area. Second, it will contaminate the water supply for miles. Even if you built an indestructable dome which didn't break (Three Mile Island's dome held), the radiation there would be disastrous. Cleanup would be extremely bad, and miles around would be evacuated for decades until the radiation decreased.

If you want to read about the steps to a meltdown, go read Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October

There may never have been a case of life imitating art that was as dead on as the release of "The China Syndrome" and the disaster at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant.

"The China Syndrome" is a movie about Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda), a female newscaster who is assigned rather lollipop news stories, such as a new singing telegram service in town or a tiger's birthday at the zoo. One day, when she is covering a simple story on how the local nuclear power plant works, she witnesses an accident from the visitor's room overlooking the control room. The camera man working for the assignment, Richard Adams (a then shaggy haired Michael Douglas) , secretly tapes the actions that occur in the control room during the event. Yet, the station won't let them air the footage and the story is treated as hardly a big deal when it is announced that at no point was there a threat to anybody’s life. Yet the head in the control room that day, Jack Godell (the late Jack Lemmon), begins to question what happened that day after he finds that the investigation into the events was hastily done due to the operating company of the plant losing half a million dollars each day the plant was closed. The film then goes on to show the two journalists and Jack trying to uncover a massive cover up to what exactly happened that day at the power plant and what the long term effects of that day would be.

When the film was released on March 19th, 1979 it was universally blasted by critics and experts alike. They believed that it was a crudely unrealistic portrayal of serious subject matter. And it wasn’t like they had nothing to base their opinions on, for there had been nuclear accidents prior to the spring 1979 date in which the film was released. A fire at a plutonium production reactor a hundred miles north of Liverpool, England was blamed for 39 cancer deaths in 1957. Three workers were killed in an Idaho reactor in 1961. A partial core meltdown occurred near Detroit in 1966. Radiation was released into a cavern (that later had to be sealed for good) in Switzerland in 1969 and in 1975 a fire at a reactor in Alabama resulted in dangerous lowering of cooling water levels, similar to what happened in the film.

While at the time of release there had been nuclear disasters before...there had been nothing on scale to what would happen in on Three Mile Island in the town of Middletown, Pennsylvania.

On March 28th, 1979, while "The China Syndrome" was still in theatres throughout the nation, a partial meltdown of the reactor core at the Three Mile Island Power Plant in Middletown occurred. It was the top story on every media outlet in the United States, Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh went on television to address the fears of the state and to order the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and prompted a visit to the plant from then president Jimmy Carter. Total disaster was averted, yet 52% of the plant's core was melted down.

While with its three incredible performances, thrilling chase sequences, beautiful set pieces and an incredible musical score of silence, "The China Syndrome" was already a great film when it was released on March 19th in 1979, yet after March 28th, it had a new relevance. People could turn off the evening news, walk down the street to the movie theatre and see a film version of what they had been watching on television all week projected on the big screen. There was even a scene in film in which a nuclear expert is explaining the footage of the control room to the two main characters and he states that if a full meltdown occurred it would create cloud of radioactive fallout ”the size of Pennsylvania.”

While I'm not certain how much of a bump the film got after the accident, it did receive a good amount of attention. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, Fonda and Lemmon for acting as well as for screenwriting and art direction. The movie grossed 51.7 million dollars in its theatrical run, outgrossing other bigger films at the box office released that same year. Such as Alien, All That Jazz and Mad Max.

Yet "The China Syndrome" hasn't aged well over time. It's rarely mentioned as a "classic" film and on occasion when the film is brought up in conversation with somebody who claims to be a knowledgeable film buff they might have no idea what you’re talking about. Yet it's unfortunate that few recognize just how bizarre the release of "The China Syndrome" and the Three Mile Island disaster occurring less than two weeks away from each other is.

So to put it into perspective, the release of "The China Syndrome" would be comparable to the following possibilities:

*A movie about an ex-athlete being put on trial for murdering his ex-wife coming out less than two weeks before O.J Simpson was speeding down Interstate 5 in his Ford Bronco.

*A movie about the investigation of a doomed space craft coming out less than two weeks before the Challenger tragedy.

*A movie about a man attempting to kill the President only to impress an actress he was obsessed with coming out less than two weeks before John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan.

While the 1997 Oscar nominated film Wag The Dog seemed to compliment the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal that was occurring at the time of it’s release and the 2002 film Signs seemed to satirize the around the clock television coverage on every channel after the September 11th attacks that occurred less than a year earlier, both those films were in the production stages when the events they paralleled occurred.

“The China Syndrome” is one of, if not the most extreme example of life imitating art in our modern day and age.

The China Syndrome also describes an increasing problem with technology companies providing their wares to The People's Republic of China. The problem stems from China's use of this technology in order to further a communist agenda, rather than to empower their people.

The most popular example is Cisco and Nortel Networks' willingness to supply China with network filtering and blocking technology. "The Great Firewall of China" was the end result.1

A not-so-popular example, highly buried by the anti-virus industry, is their willingness to provide computer virus technology to China; not anti-virus technology, but virus technology. Anti-virus firms reportedly do this in order to gain access to Chinese markets.2

This "China Syndrome" has led some North American technology customers to wonder why they should support companies that willingly assist a regime known for human rights abuse. Unfortunately, few customers will vote with their wallets. The addictive update model assures that addictscustomers will continue to buy that company's products. Even the White House is guilty of patronizing technology firms that support China because of their addiction to anti-virus updates. By supporting these firms, they ironically and tacitly approve their un-patriotic activity.3

  1. http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/5/17/25858.shtml - The Great Firewall of China By Charles R. Smith
  2. http://www.dbugman.com/medley/idtheft1.html - by Ted Bridis of The Wall Street Journal and
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/04/03/chinese_feds_demand_computer_virus/ - Chinese Feds demand computer virus samples by Thomas C Greene of The Register
  3. http://vmyths.com/rant.cfm?id=482&page=4 - The China Syndrome, Part 6 by Rob Rosenberger

kalen lived in China from 2002 to 2004. He explained to me that he had not heard of "The China Syndrome" referred to in a technology or anti-virus context. This is understandable, since this was publicized in early 2001 and has not seen much press since then.

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