Friday, March 28, 2014

Three Mile Island

On March 28, 1979, one of the two nuclear reactors at the Three Mile Island facility in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown. Radioactive material was released into the atmosphere in the form of hazardous gas and iodine. Due to the severity of the accident and the initial confusion following it, a presidential commission was established to investigate the cause and report on the actions of the various entities involved.

Dartmouth President John Kemeny was chosen to lead the commission, which eventually established that the plant had suffered a loss of coolant. A faulty valve and a failure of the operators to correctly diagnose the problem in the initial stages of the accident also contributed to the severity of the event.

John Kemeny's papers contain many items related to his work on the commission, including several drafts of his acceptance. One starts:
Mr. President:

This is an awesome responsibility! I have tried to think of every reason why I should not accept. But when the President of the United States asks... the only possible answers is "yes".
The Thayer School of Engineering and the Dickey Center are sponsoring a symposium on nuclear energy with a focus on the 35th anniversary of the Three Mile Island event this Friday, March 28. The event is free and open to the public.

John Kenemy's papers are available by asking for MS-988. A guide to the collection is available.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

From the Dartmouth Cannon

With April Fools' around the corner, let us not forget that Dartmouth students of years past did not wait for one day of the year for their pranks.  Often much more dangerous than modern pranks, one prank in 1836 involved large weapons, broken glass, some wet boots, and ended in an expulsion from the school!

In a letter dated July 14, 1836, Solomon Laws (class of 1836) of Peterborough, NH wrote home to his brother, Nathaniel Laws. He tells him of the most recent prank by the sophomore class – firing a cannon into a tutor's window – all because some members of the sophomore class were suspended for refusing to be quiet and insulting a tutor! Solomon writes:
"At this some of the class were much offended, and on the night following some individuals took a large cannon from the gunhouse in this village, drew it up near the college building, about under the offending tutors window, and fired it with such a tremendous charge so to break about three hundred and twenty squares of glass from the college buildings. It jarred the houses in most distant parts of the village, was heard several miles distant and supposed to be an earthquake."
By the time faculty arrived, the perpetrators had vanished. Since it had been a wet night, the faculty tried to find those students with wet shoes and compared the tracks with those left in the mud by the cannon. One student was found guilty and expelled. This caused further outrage among the sophomore class. One student who spoke out in defense of the expelled student must have said something truly "outrageous," and was similarly dismissed for a year. It was only after he apologized that he was allowed back.


Interested in reading the whole letter? Ask for Manuscript 836414 at the reference desk.

Do you remember any pranks from your time at Dartmouth? Let us know about them in the comments below.