The China Syndrome (1979)

chinasyndrome.jpg The China Syndrome (1979) is thriller story about a sudden unexpected breakdown at a nuclear power plant. Two TV reporters, played by Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, are in a nuclear plant for a news-report on energy production. The two unexpectedly become witness to what they later realize is a cover-up at the nuclear plant. The company they work for is not interested in running the news story and the nuclear plant will do anything to hide the break-down from the public. The two reporters manage to get to the heart of the story with the help of a whistle-blower, who ends up being killed in trying to prevent the plant for pursuing business interests over serious safety issues.

I am not sure what people thought about the plot when the movie was being made or on the day it was released, but within a few days of its release The Three Mile Islands accident happened at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. (For an official summary of the accident click here). Many scientists believe that nuclear energy is the future. The movie and the accident that followed it was a wake-up call for many that the dangers associated with nuclear plants are very real.

This movie was also a great example of the dangers associated with whistle-blowing. The whistle-blower at the nuclear plant was just trying to do what he thought was the right thing to do. We talk a lot about whistle-blowing in schools and colleges encouraging our students to speak up when they see something wrong in their workplace, the movie is about how far things can go for whistle-blowers.     

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32 responses to “The China Syndrome (1979)

  1. Steve Kluthe

    I thought this was a great movie because it show the behind the scenes of of what really happens in a nuclear powerplant. I also found it very interesting that the news station didn’t want to air the story because they were afraid of the reprocutions. It makes you wonder how many other big news stories are not being aired becasue it is controversial information. I thought it was interesting that the plant knew it was in the wrong and they did anything they could to cover it up so that they woudn’t have to shut the plant down. When you think about it if they would have shut the plant down but if the plant would explode it would effect millions. It really shows what companyies are willing to do to protect there profits. I thought it was interesting that the whistle blower was killed because he was determined to get the real story out. The other interesting part was that tried to depict him as a crazy and a drunk but really all he was tring to protect the human race.

  2. Molly Mickeliunas

    I agree, this movie was interesting because one person was trying to do good and in the end he lost. It is an ethical question of should you keep your job and keep your mouth shut or should you do what is right and make others aware of the dangers. Companies will doing anything and everything to make money and you wonder how many companies are making money off of dangerous or harmful situations. It seemed that no one wanted to help him with the story. No one was interested in being controversial or stepping outside of the box. It is sad to see someone try and protect others while everyone else just wants to close the door and pretend nothing is wrong.

  3. Aaron Winters

    I thought this was a good movie, too bad I didn’t know about it sooner. I was surprised when the tv station wouldn’t air the footage out of fear of prosecution. but at the same time, i question the decision of the cameraman to keep shooting footage after being told that no filming was allowed.

  4. Andrew Hutton

    This is a good movie, although a little outdated, it really showed a good example of an ethical dilemma. Do you keep your job and lie exposing the public to danger, or do you tell the truth and get fired, or possibly killed? I thought it was really fascinating that this movie was released just 12 days before the disaster at three mile island.

  5. joshua classen

    The movie was ok. I thought it was a little old, but the storyline was still good. Like Drew Hutton, I thought it was really fascinating that it released just 12 days before the disaster at three mile island. I also think that cover-ups like this happen all the time to keep the public from freaking out.

  6. I thought this movie was pretty interesting. After I watch something like this I always think about how often this happens in real life. The media has a lot of power in this country and there are very few people pulling the strings behind the scenes. Richard may have been out of line when he continued filming, but what resulted from the film shouldnt have been taken lightly. All in all this was a good movie.

  7. Eraj Tabaraliev

    I thought it will be some boring old movie, but it is not. It is old movie, but it shows the problems that we might face in the future. To do the right thing is hard to do, but it is the RIGHT thing to do. Therefore, we should do the right thing, like Mr. Godell did in the movie.

  8. Shailendu Shroff

    The China Syndrome can be considered a dated movie as of today’s globalizing world. However, it is a great example of realizing societal values and ethics. Kimberley Wells who witnesses an accident at Ventana nuclear plant wants to make it public that hazards of such an event. However, there are numerous obstacles in her way including political and legal obligations. Also the plant report, which played down the incident, was happening due to the plant going through a public consulting consent. Jack Godell also is aware of some plant hazards and false documents, which have been used to cover up these. He is bent on exposing the same, since they could lead to catastrophic results. He stages a drama to make a public statement, but ends up paying with his life. Now it all depends on the media, especially Kimberley as to how can she bring justice to his death and justify the problems at Ventana.

    Today, with more power with the masses, such incidences can be easily brought to the media’s attention and ultimately made public. Business corporations today must realize that besides being a profit generating body, they are equally liable for Corporate Social Responsibility. They need to take into account the safety of its workers and the environment at large. With the advent of the green revolution, there is a requirement for companies to preserve the ecological harmony of their environment. Businesses today violate this, however they also try to hide the same and escape from any punitive results arising. It is high time that companies realize that their ethics define the way their employees and associates behave externally. Ethics are being observed these days in business practices and corporations’ image is based on the same. A fair organization must not allow for any level of unethical behavior on part of an employee, management or in any of its business processes or operational activities. Simultaneously, they must try to reach a fair level of ethical professionalism in dealing with other bodies and entities across the globe. We as citizens must realize our duty to report any unethical treatment or incident that may be responsible for an unfavorable incident.

  9. The China Syndrome illustrates business ethics in a very comprehensive manner. The ethical situation in question is a problem with water pumps at a nuclear power plant in California. The problem stems from improper welding of the joints on these pumps. However, if the plant were to be shut down to fix this issue, the power company that owns the plant would lose millions of dollars.

    The approach taken in this movie is probably a little extreme but not completely unfathomable. A meltdown at a plant and/or “The China Syndrome” is feasible and would greatly impact the surrounding environs. It is kind of scary to think that in order to save their own “financial” skin, management would put their workers and the community they operate in within harm’s way. It’s actually quite disgusting, we’re not talking about a faulty toy that might break easily or a pen that doesn’t write after a week; we’re dealing with people’s lives and perhaps the well-being of future generations.

    The most powerful part of the movie, at least in my opinion, was when the SWAT team broke into the control room and shot Jack (the whistle-blower) and then, what he predicted would happen, actually did. Unfortunately, Jack did not survive and I feel like the writers emphasized this such that we would feel like Jack did not die in vein. Also, it just shows how far management may go to cover up harmful press or whistle-blowing.

    Finally, I just feel like we haven’t seen the last of questionable management decisions as far as ethics are concerned. I think we will continue to see it in the manufacturing industry as well as the pharmaceutical industry. Especially in the latter because so much money is spent on the development of new drugs it would essentially ruin the company if they pulled a drug in the late stages of development. Pessimistically, I do believe most people are selfish and inherently evil. So, regulation is the only real solution to problems like the one’s illustrated in The China Syndrome. Like Machiavelli said, you have to make people fear the punishment and it will keep them in line. So, my answer would be to create harsh regulation for firms that make poor ethical decisions that may seriously harm or kill their consumers, workers and/or the communities in which they operate.

  10. The China Syndrome is a film that involves the cover up of a nuclear plant accident and how the powerful use their power in order to achieve their goal, whether it be corrupt/unethical or not. The theme of the movie touches on how the success of one plant affects the future of another and what lengths are gone to in order to assure that the new plant is approved such as the attempted murder of the film crew man with evidence. The powerful plant owners try to silence the outing of the potential dangers that are inherent and go even to the point of killing Jack. This film shows the lengths that people go to cover the truth and the struggle that is required for the truth to be uncovered. The China Syndrome does a great job of showing the difficulties of fighting the power, but also depicts the rewards that come from freeing the truth. I didn’t like how the movie seemed to have ended so abruptly and I felt like many things were left unanswered. I also found it a bit hypocritical that Jack’s friend in the control center didn’t trust him that the plant was unsafe yet at the end of the movie in the interview calls Jack his best friend. I would have liked to have found out what happens the bosses of the plant as well as who else was held responsible. I also want to know how the news feed of the interview inside the control room was cut off. Despite all these open ended plot holes, this movie provides a parallel view of the unethical practices that occur in the modern business world.

  11. Lindsay Burleson

    After watching The China Syndrome I feel a little less likely to ever blow the whistle on any of my superiors. Since starting in a business school 5 years ago, every class had always covered ethics and social responsibility. I would only half listen to the lectures and just think to myself, of course I’m going to do the right thing, that’s the way I was raised.
    I really never put enough thought into the other consequences. The power of corporations is scary. It’s not incorrect to assume that you could be overcome by this power. The China Syndrome is less of an eye opener to the good of people but more the to corruption of corporations. I do hope that I will act in the correct matter if ever put in this situation, regardless of the consequences.

  12. I think the movie is very great. Three parts are needed to mention. First, as I believe, if possible, people should always try to do something good for the society in the whole life. People should also hold the belief in the working place, especially when it may affect the health of millions of people. One who holds business ethics really deserves rewards. In the movie the brave Jack wanted to advocate his anxiety of the plant to the public. However his action contradicted the interest of the plant owners. Unfortunately, Jack had to lose his life in order to shut down the plant and save others’ lives. It always needs a lot of courage to say the truth under the giant corporation structure. Second, I wondered why it called the “The China Syndrome” and found an interesting explanation on the web: “We called it China Syndrome because if there ever was a core meltdown, scientists jokingly predicted it would burn straight through the Earth and out the other side near China.” And I don’t think it a joke. Third and the most important, I care the safety of nuclear power plant for a while. I always think there should be some substitutes. The invisible danger that nuclear power could bring to our lives is unimaginable. The government should try more to teach and influence people to save energy and protect the environment in order to rescue the earth.

  13. Jiaxi(Zeta)Chen

    The China syndrome
    The China syndrome is a good thriller story about business ethics. When Kimberly and Richard uncover the evil and unethical action by the power company, they are courageous to try their best to uncover the truth to the public. They also help the whistler-blower, Jack, does whatever he can to get his story into the public consciousness to avert what he thinks is a potential nuclear meltdown at the plant. .But the power company is determined to keep Jack quiet and to protect their billion dollar investment, namely Ventana. So they killed Jack before the truth come out.
    Like the issue of last movie we talked about, company, especially high-tech conglomerates, they always use the unethical means to make big bucks. In the movie of “The China Syndrome”, they want to protect their own interest but leave the safety of society alone. Most people feel helpless when they encounter this kind of difficult thing, some of them even loss their lives. Like Jack, it’s a tragedy that he was killed by the power company. But the governments, even though they are the regulators of these unethical companies, sometimes they close one eye or don’t have disciplined regulations to stop the unethical companies before the huge tragic happen, especially some of the governments in developing countries. Today, a lot of High-tech conglomerates which produce dangerous and toxic products move their manufacturing factories to these developing countries. The governments of these developing countries give high-tech conglomerates a lot of conveniences which makes high-techs get chance to do their business here unethically. Finally , the tragic happen—for example, the environment here is polluted, a lot of local people , even their next generations have a lot of health problems caused by the environment pollution. These developing Governments can only see the short-term benefits of economy, but ignore the long-term benefit of the whole community. Governments should make these companies fear the punishment of unethical business actions, and it could keep them in line. So I agree with what Frank said that government should take harsh regulation for firms that make poor ethical decisions that may seriously harm or kill their customers, workers and the communities in which they operate.
    When we feel sad about the death of Jack, I think the real murder is not the power company, but the government. Government educate people to tell the truth when they see something is wrong, but without the protection from government, people who are whistle-blowers might lose their lives like Jack , sometimes the loss of lives are not worthwhile, which doesn’t bring the attention from government to the unethical companies. Then people might be scared, they lied to public or shut up their mouth without saying anything. Governments should learn lessons from this movie and support secure back-up to whistle-blower, which will let them uncover the truth to avoid the tragic happen.

  14. The China Syndrome was the best movie on our list so far. It dealt with ethics on major scale. Basically, a shift manager at the Ventana Nuclear Power Plant, named Jack Godell realized that there was a problem with parts of the plant and that it was not safe to continue operating until a full inspection could be done. Unfortunately, there was pressure from top management to get the plant running again. Every day that the plant was offline cost the company over half of a million dollars. A full inspection of the plant would cost approximately $20 million. Mr. Godell took matters into his own hands and took control of the plant at gunpoint to make his case. After attempting a live news broadcast from the control room to prove his point, a member of the SWAT team shot and killed Jack. This was kind of a downer, but Jack ended up being right and the plant machinery failed again. For those who didn’t watch the movie, “The China Syndrome” occurs if the core is exposed and the fuel heats beyond core heat tolerance. Once this happens, it can’t be stopped. Fuel rods melt right down to the bottom of the plant and can theoretically travel to China. If the rod hits ground water it blasts into the atmosphere and sends out clouds of radio activity. Rendering an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently inhabitable (Explained in the movie). My science books say this is not a good thing. Jack was pressured from his friends and managers to begin operations again, but on closer inspection he found the plant could not operate without seriously endangering the public. Jack’s life was threatened and he still tried to get the truth out. This is a major example of an ethical dilemma. He decided that the safety of Southern California was more important than his job and even his life. Mr. Godell made the correct choice and was the only one to oppose management’s decisions.

  15. In the 1979 film The China Syndrome, Kimberly Wells, a TV news reporter, along with her cameraman Richard, witness something called a SCRAM (i.e., emergency situation) while taking a tour of the Ventana nuclear power plant, an energy station just outside of Los Angeles, California. Despite being told not to film certain areas of the plant by a plant supervisor, Richard, in a discrete manner, ignores this order and captures on film the events that take place in the control room, which show shift supervisor Jack Godell working with his team trying to prevent a potential meltdown of the plant. Kimberly and Richard eventually form an elaborate plan to have the power plant shut down by gathering evidence proving that the Ventana plant was unsafe. The film ends as Godell is killed trying to shut the plant down. At first he was painted as an insane employee to the media, but after Kimberly interviewed one of his close friends outside the plant, the world soon learned that the Ventana plant was in fact unsafe and that Godell was a hero.

    Business ethics is a major theme throughout the film. We see how initially Godell was a defender of the power company, but later became a whistleblower after he realized that the secondary vibration he felt during the first SCRAM indicated that there was a real problem with the plant. Kimberly and Richard were also whistleblowers in that they ultimately disobeyed the orders given to them by executives at their news station who said they did not want a story to be aired regarding the Ventana plant for fear of being sued by the power company. Clearly, those in charge of the plant were guilty of criminal negligence and had Godell not intervened, millions of people could have died. The film shows how even the smallest negligence or fraud (i.e., forging of x-rays) by a company can have devastating consequences for the general public. Overall, The China Syndrome was a solid film and shows how companies can greatly benefit from hiring employees who possess integrity.

  16. The China Syndrome was a powerful movie depicting an extreme ethical situation involving a nuclear power plant. The power plant experiences a mild accident, when a turbine trips, but turns into a much more dangerous situation when a faulty indicator persuades the plant supervisor, Jack Godell to release water from the reactor when the opposite was actually necessary. After Jack realizes what has happened he is able to think quickly and avoid a near nuclear meltdown.

    After the incident, Jack looks more deeply into the data and believes that one of the main pumps has faulty welds and is likely to malfunction if the reactor is again pushed to 100%.

    The first thing that struck me was how ignorant upper management was in this situation. First, they played off the initial incident as a minor accident and wanted to get the plant back up online as quickly as possible. Instead, they needed to listen to the man who had first hand knowledge of the situation. Secondly, they needed to realize that if he was right, the consequences of doing nothing far outweigh the monetary costs of fixing the problems. I also found it interesting that one of the reasons Jack had so much trouble convincing others of the problem was because most of the other people at the plant had almost no idea on how to run a reactor. Most employees were very young and the older ones were worried about their jobs.

    Even after the problem became apparent to Jack, he had no one to back him up. Obviously management in this case went way to far with trying to cover up the incident and even later attempting to kill Hector and Jack to keep the information from going public.

    Jack tried through various channels to warn of the potential problem and eventually decided he had to stop a disaster from happening in the only way left, to take the control room by force.

    The power company needs to take a serious look at its upper management and its ethics policies. It also needs to seriously consider protection rules for whistle-blowers so that serious problems can be avoided in the future. The fact that the consequences of not doing so are not only monetary, but could contribute to a major disaster along with loss of life makes these policies that much more important to consider.

  17. I have long been interested in the field of nuclear power, and thus I have long been familiar with the name of this film. However, apart from reading about the film and learning that Jane Fonda gave Edward Teller a heart attack from her lobbying against nuclear power, I have never previously seen the actual film in its entirety. Although I was somewhat worried that this movie might come across a bit too strongly in anti-nuclear terms for my taste, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film had much more to do with corporate corruption than with silly environmentalist propaganda. I actually believe that the film does a good job of portraying what can happen when greedy executives sidestep professional ethics and inappropriately use the system for their own gain. I also believe that the movie underscores the need for effective oversight and control mechanisms in business in order to avoid various ethical and safety pitfalls.
    As I previously stated, I strongly believe that this film is best viewed from a managerial perspective. The technical content of the movie itself leaves much to be desired, and the scientific postulations put forth regarding the nature of a nuclear meltdown are not only materially untrue but also dangerously misinformative. However, the movie succeeds in revealing how greed and laziness can have disastrous consequences in a business environment. Foster-Sullivan, the construction company that built Ventana Nuclear Power Plant, was remiss in their obligation to conform to Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards and thus acted very irresponsibly even before attempting to kill Jack Godell for threatening to expose their misdeeds. Jack acted quite heroically in standing up to his superiors and insisting that proper procedures be followed in order to ensure safety. His colleagues exhibited comparative weakness in refusing to go along with him in his fight, and their assertions about excessive costs related to ensuring safety are characteristically shortsighted. Jack did, however, make a moral blunder when he grabbed the security guard’s gun and forced everyone from the control room. While acting as a whistleblower is definitely ethically just and likely morally necessary, Jack should not have taken this specific action because it was in and of itself both wrong and uncalled-for. Rather, Jack should have taken the proper action of seeking safety and promptly alerting the correct authorities. Furthermore, Kimberly and Richard should have acted more responsibly in attempting to bring the situation at Ventana to the attention of the general public. While the news media certainly does play an important role in a democratic society, reporters should not overstep their bounds when dealing with sensitive and potentially dangerous information. Loose cannon journalists such as Richard should not be the public’s last line of defense when dealing with corporate corruption and other such serious issues.

  18. Jack is the epitome of Utilitarianism. He was looking out for the greater good, while risking his life in the midst of it. From first thought, the movie seemed a little exaggerated, but sometimes it takes extremes to get a point across. If people see the extreme consequences of behaving unethically, it’ll force them to think about the ethical dilemmas they may face in daily life. Aside from the extremities, there were also a lot of common situations that we see in reality. For example, I believe that TV stations cover up a story more often than not. It goes to show how much faith I have in society. I believe that unethical people outnumber the ethical in the world.

  19. This movie displayed a huge breach in ethics. This goes way past business ethics. Milton Friedman came up with a concept called “neighborhood effects”. This is a situation that freedom and capitalism must address even though there is no perfect right answer. When someones free choice to have a profitable business adversely effects unwilling participants it must give pause to the actions being taken. In this case it is the nuclear power plant creating a dangerous situation for the surrounding population. Even though it would have been less cost effective to have the proper safety and training for the employees it was necessary because of the neighborhood effects that could have occurred. At the end karma caused the truth to come out and the public found out about what was going on with the plant. It real life karma does not always come around and it must be the duty of every person to be ethical even when they think no one will find out about their actions.

  20. This movie (and the topic of business ethics in general), reminds me of a quote I was exposed to in college. Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

    Godell is actually one of the few who was willing to let his ethics guide him, despite the precarious position it put his career in. An earlier comment pointed out that the young workers were ignorant of the problem, while the older workers were more concerned with maintaining their jobs than any problem that might come up. I am stable in my ethical/moral beliefs and fully intend to stand by them. Nevertheless, this past year I’ve learned a lot more about this topic than I’m sure many of my fellow students have. When you are married, and have a family and need to provide, I can certainly imagine facing the temptation of unethical behavior. When it’s up to you and your own money and other people depend on you to deliver, it may not be as easy and clear cut as many of think based on our current life experience.

    Overall, The China Syndrome gives a nice (and extreme example) of the need to stand up for your beliefs, even when you are scared to, in the name of protecting values and the safety of others. In today’s society, you are far more likely to experience the proper reward for such ethical behavior, and not Godell’s fate.

  21. Being an interesting movie to watch, the China Syndrome also has a catchy name. But to clear something here, technically,in terms of America, the other side of the planet would be somewhere in the Indian Ocean, not China. People have been confused with this concept for centuries and it is actually wrong. In the movie, they used this code word China Syndrome to express the seriousness that when the plant has a meltdown, it would burn through the crust of earth and finally reach China, that is a wrong concept. But other than that, it is a good movie to watch,especially, for those who struggle with their ethics, our physical bodies could be killed, but not our spirit, if our spirit turns bad because of the fear of threats to their well being, they better think twice which is the right thing to do.

  22. In the movie, “The China Syndrome”, the life of a reporter named Kimberly Wells who works at a California news station. The background shows that she is on the lower rung of the reporting with dreams of moving up in the corporation. One of the odd jobs that she has been working on is a nuclear power special, but during one of the plant tours they record some footage of an accident at a plant, but since they have no sound they are unsure of the severity of this accident.

    From here the ethical dilemmas being to appear for many of the parties involved. The most important is that of Jack Godell, who knows the severity of the accident and learns that the plant is faking its’ safety inspections because they would become too costly. Therefore, he decides to take over the control room, which seemingly goes against his own morals because he knows of the dangers inherent in running this plant. This took a lot of courage from Jack as he knew by causing problems he was going to lose his job, but he was more worried about the large amount of harm that could happen to the residents.

    Another topic that is put forth in this move is corporate social responsibility. However, PG&E was more concerned with their bottom-line profitability than the negative effects that could have been imposed on the surrounding area if a large-scale accident did occur.

  23. Although it is a very old movie, I liked it a lot, because it made me wonder what kind of ethic problems and dilemmas I will have when I start working, and what kind of reactions I would need to prepare to have. I have always thought highly of business ethics, because it is like a code that everyone should work according to. If people choose not to fight back or stay nonchalant when what they know could save thousands of people so they could keep their jobs, these people are dead spiritually. So the most important thing I learnt from this ,movie is that if confrontation leads to serious consequences, what are some of the alternatives we could think of to solve a rather serious and extreme situation.

  24. “The China Syndrome” is a film which seems to have prayed upon the fears of the late 1970s. Nuclear power is something we take for granted as a clean, well-designed, efficient way of harnessing energy. This movie took that concept and laid it across a novel you would find at a checkout counter. Although the concept of ethics in business certainly did come into play, I did not expect such cartoon-like caricatures to exist. The evil boss, the oppressed worker, and the often overlooked female reporter came together to create an ethics video obvious enough for a chimp to take something away from.

    Clearly it is a violation of all levels of ethics to lie about an accident at a nuclear power plant. This violation reaches a whole new level when the head of the plant forces an accident of near nuclear proportions in order to distract an employee who has overtaken the control room. These violations are so far past the obvious in terms of ethics, I found it almost laughable. While the film does not provide any standout performances or groundbreaking storyline, it is an adequate thriller. Towards the end I found myself gripping the couch to see if California was going to evaporate. Thankfully, Jane Fonda and her crew survived and a hearty lesson was learned by all: when it comes to nuclear energy, be very very careful.

  25. In China Syndrome we see a pretty reasonable display of what a whistle blower can go through. The fact that Jack Godell, an experienced shift manager at a new nuclear power facility can be completely written off, and have his recommendations completely disregarded is frightening. I must admit I can not imagine how difficult it must be to go through the proper channels and be shrugged off at every level, only to find that other people who are trying to help are only being put in harms way. As many people above this post mentioned, its very easy to simply stand here and say ‘I would do the right thing and blow the whistle on my company’, but in reality this is just not so easy. There are just so many things to consider: family, friends, what happens if people don’t believe you or a cover up occurs – then you’re branded a crazy and never get another job.

    beyond the obvious ethical considerations, we should mention the ethics of the media: although they are portrayed in a relatively good light in this film, there are plenty of members of the press who will spin their stories however they need to and bury whoever they must for their story. obviously not showing nuclear control room footage was somewhat responsible on the part of the press and must have been a tough decision for them to make.

    Moral of the story: make sure you can sleep at night after all your decisions.

  26. I was disappointed to learn after the movie that The China Syndrome was not based on real events. Maybe disappointed is not a good word, because that means people would have actually been exposed to high levels of radiation. It was more because I wanted to see real-life bad guys go down.

    The temptation to cheat but don’t get caught is a widespread human affliction, which becomes worse when so many people are involved that it is easy to pass the buck. Even as the situation was deteriorating with Jack Lemmon in the control room alone, keeping things in-house was still a priority. That was what brought the situation on in the first place.

  27. What I cannot understand is when an expert is telling you that something is wrong, why wouldn’t you believe him? I did not know the CEO’s MBA came with a concentration in nuclear physics. It is like having an average person telling a bomb technician to cut the red wire when the technician wants to cut the blue wire.

    This movie gives a great argument that certain industries should be under Government control where profit motive is not a factor (or should not be at least). While I firmly believe, most industries should be under the capitalism-free market system, certain industries are too dangerous in greedy people’s hand. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is not going to protect us from nuclear waste in our atmosphere.

    I would also like to point out that “China Syndrome” is extremely unlikely. Modern Nuclear plants are setup so that in case of a reactor meltdown, the nuclear material will cool extremely fast so that it will not be able to melt through the floor of the plant.

  28. The China Syndrome, a classic Cold War 70’s film, does a great job instilling fear in the American public. Although today we know as Gary stated in his Blog that the China Syndrome is not a plausible scenario in a nuclear plant, back in the 1970’s when fear of the unknown was great this movie served its purpose in scaring the public that Nuclear power is inherently unsafe and the plants are controlled by execs that do not care about public safety and are solely motivated by achieving minimum safety standards and maximizing their profits.

    Ethically speaking, the film does a great job of showing an ethical dilemma that involves a whistle blower and management ignoring that employee’s complaint. The end result of the SWAT team gunning down the employee is clearly dramatized where most likely that employee would have been summarily fired and made to sign NDA paperwork upon termination. After the entire “world” sees the broadcast from inside the control room, and the feed just cuts out, the plant managers still deny any accidents in the plant. Apparently at that time government regulation of Nuclear power plants was a hot topic and this movie helped the effort of increasing government regulations.

  29. “The China Syndrome” couple the integrity of reports with the ethical Ventana nuclear power plant supervisor, Jack Godell as the mainframe to plot the movie. In the movie, we see Jack initially confront the ethical dilemma and after beginning convinced by Kimberly, he realized his responsibility to secure people’s life and decided to appear at the safety hearings and disclose the real problem in the nuclear plant and further appeal to shutting down the plant. However, by the end of the movie, Jack was shut to death and the power plant was back to normal because of the activation of the automatic system. The ending is quite beyond my expectation. Sometimes we’d assume that the top management accepted Jack’s suggestion and shut down the plant and Jack’s ethics behaviors are appreciated. Anyhow, The China Syndrome is still a very high-quality and meaningful movie to describe the ethics dilemma and people’s fears to the nuclear power plant.

  30. “China Syndrome” is a perfect example of big business’s refusal to accept accountability and act responsibly. But it was a bit too perfect of an example. The line between right and wrong was too well-defined. The harm was apparent and imminent. Though, I suppose, at the time of the movie, nuclear power was not well-enough known for the average person watching “China Syndrome” to fully comprehend just exactly what repercussions could result from a company’s failure to act responsibly concerning nuclear power [insert lengthy discussion of Chernobyl here], thus, making the issues of ethics slightly cloudier.

    There is hardly an employee who would make the stand that Jack Lemmon’s character made. I also found the depth of the corporation’s corruption unbelievable, literally. Running a car off road? Come on! That’s attempted vehicular homicide, and if any wind of that caught ANYONE’S attention, there would be a media frenzy the likes of which CNN has never seen.

    The only serious issue I had with this movie was the transparency of the corruption. Often ethics are overlooked in the small nuances of an action. For example, a manager may ask an accountant to “fix” some numbers to look better. How clear, exactly, is the line between right and wrong there? Who exactly gets hurt? To what extent? No one is going to lose their life over it, right? Yet, even this example may be too transparent a situation.

    “China Syndrome” is not really a movie that makes you actually THINK about the ethics of a certain situation. It does not make you question whether or not you can do the “right” thing, assuming, of course, that you can identify the “right” thing to do. There is too clear of a right or wrong in this movie.

  31. The China Syndrome is more about opposition to nuclear energy than it is about business ethics. Although in an anecdotal sense, one nuclear plant operation gone wrong can be the cause for global catastrophe (melt the earth from the U.S. all the way down to mainland China), this is hardly possible with the amount of security placed in those plants today.

    In this movie, the ethical violations are blatantly clear and are actually legal violations as well. The film doesn’t address the more complex question of how managers should act when their profitable actions will be legal but unethical. There are no gray decision-making areas for the managers of the plant. I can only attribute this black-and-white nature of the message to one of two things. Either such scenarios were possible back in the years that the movie was being produced and we have simply outgrown this mentality as the business world or the movie was produced with a strong anti-nuclear agenda that falls short of logical and sensible critique.

  32. “The China Syndrome” is a terrific movie that incidentally raised the questions regarding business ethics. I was shocked when I knew that it was a basis of a real story. In the movie, we can see how a nuclear power station almost goes out of control and the men try to cover it up. Even though the movie seems a little exaggerated, but it delivers the message very well: how the bad the consequence is going to be if you don’t behave ethically. Especially in the business world, there are tons of ethical dilemmas facing people everyday. Which way should you go? The benefit or the ethic? This is really a thought provoking question.

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