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China Syndrome, The (1979, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda)



James Bridges’ Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning thriller The China Syndrome is a prescient warning of the potential dangers of such an unstable fuel source as nuclear power.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a TV news reporter, Richard Adams (Michael Douglas) her cameraman. While shooting a routine piece at a nuclear power plant with manager Jack Godell (Jack Lemmon), there’s an emergency. A faulty gauge has resulted in cooling water being drained from the core. Seconds from disaster, Godell manages to avert The China Syndome (in theory, the core melts, falls through the Earth and comes out in China).

In reality, a massive explosion would contaminate most of California and kill thousands. Adams, who has secretly shot the emergency, and Wells fight to get their footage aired but the heads of their station and plant heads stop them at every turn. Until Godell, realising that other safety issues have been compromised, takes over the control room at gunpoint and demands that Wells and Adams come in to broadcast a live report. As well as the three leads’ performances, often deliberately underplayed to increase the tension, the film had the extra, unwelcome fillip of publicity: just weeks after its US release, the Three Mile Island reactor was just hours away from meltdown…

production details
USA | 122 minutes | 1979

Director: James Bridges
Script: James Bridges, Mike Gray, T.S. Cook,

Jane Fonda as Kimberly Wells
Jack Lemmon as Jack Godell
Michael Alaimo as Greg Minor
Scott Brady as Herman De Young
Donald Hotton as Dr. Elliott Lowell
James Hampton as Bill Gibson
Daniel Valdez as Hector Salas
Michael Douglas as Richard Adams
Peter Donat as Don Jacovich
Wilford Brimley as Ted Spindler
Richard Herd as Evan McCormack
Stan Bohrman as Pete Martin
James Karen as Mac Churchill
Khalilah Ali as Marge
Paul Larson as D.B. Royce
Alan Beckwith as Technician