3. Compensation for ‘Psychological Stress’

Chapter 1: The United States
Part 2: Three Mile Island--Ten Years After

Bradley Baker, aged nine, knows nothing about the accident at Three Mile Island. He was born nine months after it, with Down's syndrome. Bradley is a slow learner, but he loves movies and enjoys reading picture books. At his home in an apartment block seven miles from the power plant, Bradley's mother, Debbie, aged thirty-three, told us about the trials of the last nine years.

Bradley was Debbie's second child; their other child is a girl.

"My husband was thrilled when Bradley was born," she continued. "He was looking forward to playing football with him when he got older." The joy at the birth of a son was short-lived, however. The Bakers were plunged into despair when they found out Bradley was a Down's syndrome child. Refusing to believe that nothing could be done for her son, Debbie went to the local library and did some research on his condition. From the medical encyclopedias she learned that radiation could cause genetic damage to offspring.

"It had never occurred to me that there could be some connection between that accident and Bradley's condition." Debbie was carrying Bradley at the time of the accident. Three days later, when children and pregnant women within a five-mile radius of the plant were advised to evacuate, she collected her daughter, who was at a friend's house, and the family went to stay at the home of another friend thirty miles to the north.

"Harrisburg was in a panic. My friend told me they had known about the accident on the second day—those of us who actually lived there didn't find out until the evacuation order came on the third day. We were in danger for three days and they didn't even tell us. And I was carrying Bradley."

Spending every waking moment watching her son who could never have a normal life, Debbie's resentment toward the power company began to grow. She consulted a lawyer and took the owners of the plant to court, seeking compensation on the grounds that her son's condition had been caused by the Three Mile Island accident. In the end she settled out of court in 1985. She was unwilling to reveal the amount, but the company is rumored to have paid her $1,090,000 in compensation.

The two parties remain in disagreement about the nature of the settlement, however. The GPU Nuclear Corporation, which has taken over the management of the complex, insists that the payment was made for psychological stress caused by the accident and denies that the payment acknowledges any connection between Bradley Baker's condition and the accident. Debbie Baker interprets the decision in a different manner.

"There's no way they would pay out that kind of money if they didn't feel responsible," she said. "As far as I'm concerned they're acknowledging that Bradley's condition is their fault."

According to the corporation, three hundred suits filed against them have been settled out of court. The company has so far paid out over $ 14 million in compensation. Another two thousand suits are pending. It looks like being many years before all the cases are settled. "The feet that we were able to get compensation means I don't have any financial worries," Baker told us. "But Bradley will never be normal, and I know the rest of my life will be spent looking after him." When we pointed the camera, Bradley, who was perched on his mother's knees, rewarded us with a cheerful grin.