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China Syndrome (1979) — CoverUps.com

The Conspirators

Jane Fonda — Kimberly Wells
Jack Lemmon — Jack Godell
Michael Douglas — Richard Adams
Wilford Brimley — Ted Spindler

The Masterminds

Directed By: James Bridges

Written By:
Mike Gray & T.S. Cook,
James Bridges

Running Time: 2h 2min

Rated PG

See the movie trailer

Memorable Quotes

Greg Minor: [re evidence of a nuclear power plant accident] I may be wrong, but I'd say you're lucky to be alive. For that matter, I think we might say the same for the rest of Southern California.


Richard Adams: I showed the film to a nuclear engineer. You almost uncovered the core, Mr. Godell.
Kimberly Wells: Mr. Godell, you lied to me last night. We're not going to leave here until you tell us what happened at the plant.
Jack Godell: So some anti-nuclear nut tells you we almost uncovered the core? But we didn't uncover it, did we? We stopped it in time for one simple reason and I told you that! The system works, goddamn it! The system works! That's not the problem!


Jack Godell: [wiping sweat from his forehead] I love that plant. It's my whole life.
Kimberly Wells: What is the problem?
Jack Godell: The shudder... The damn shudder. The vibration I felt during the turbine trip. It bothered me. But it sure didn't bother anyone else. And while I'm checking it, I find that some idiot phonied the welding X-rays. I just can not believe a man would deliberately falsify the records of a nuclear reactor. My god!


Evan Mc Cormack: Scram the son of a bitch.


Ted Spindler: He was not a loony. He was the sanest man I ever knew in my life.


Dr. Lowell: [reviewing the film footage that Richard had secretly taken while at the nuclear power plant during the emergency] It looks serious. In the control room, these lights are concerned with core water level. They might have come close to exposing the core. If that's true, we came very close to the China Syndrome.
Kimberly Wells: The what?
Dr. Lowell: If the core is exposed, the fuel heats up in a matter of minutes. Nothing stops it. It melts through the ground, theoretically to China. But when it hits ground water, it explodes into radioactive clouds. The number killed depends on the wind. Render an area the size of Pennsylvania uninhabitable, with many cancer cases later.


CoverUps.com Rating: 3 UFOs

By the CoverUps.com staff

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The China Syndrome's title refers to a meltdown so hot it would reach "all the way to China." It's an exciting old-school thriller about the inherent dangers of nuclear technology even when put to "peaceful" use, co-starring and co-produced by Michael Douglas.

The China Syndrome was the recipient of some unbelievably good luck from a marketing point of view because it was released less than two weeks before the infamous nuclear incident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania — the world's worst until the meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986.

Director James Bridges ("Mike's Murder", "Urban Cowboy", and "The Paper Chase") keeps the tension ratcheted up until the nail-biting climax. He cowrote it with Mike Gray and T.S. Cook, and the lean script stays focused throughout on the nuclear problem, while taking hard swipes at superficial news coverage which was the rule of the day at the time.

Ambitious, smart and attractive LA TV field reporter Kimberley Wells (Jane Fonda), and her crew led by freelance cameraman Richard Adams (Michael Douglas), are in the visitor's gallery of the fictional Ventana Nuclear Power Plant in Southern California, to do one of her usual fluff pieces.

As PR flack Bill Gibson (James Hampton) gives them a tour, alert signals go off in the control room and shift supervisor Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon), and his technicians work strenuously to bring the problem under control after much sweat and concern.

Afterwards the nuclear people downplay the incident (it was only "a routine turbine trip") and quickly pass a perfunctory investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Wells's station manager, Don Jacovich (Peter Donat), despite it being a scoop, refuses to show the unauthorized footage that Richard secretly shot, fearing a law suit and not wanting to tangle with such a big company, but Richard thinks it's important enough to show the public, so he steals the film from the studio vault and shows it to nuclear experts he knows. They give their opinion that a China Syndrome was narrowly averted at the plant.

When Jack discovers that the plant’s security seals have all been faked in their inspection and the company refuses to ante up the 30 to 50 million dollars or so needed to replace them, he fears the worst and wants the plant shut for repairs. He gets into contact with Kimberley and Richard when his superiors refuse to listen to him.

The China Syndrome earned four Academy Award nominations (Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Actor (Lemmon), Best Actress (Fonda).

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