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481 Topics: The Three Mile Island Accident; Famous Buildings: Chrysler Building; quarrel versus argument versus controversy; concerned versus worried; amounted to

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 481.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 481. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download the Learning Guide for this episode. The Learning Guide contains a complete transcript of everything I say on this Café, as well as definitions, sample sentences, and cultural notes about today’s topics.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about a famous accident in the United States that took place in 1979 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. We’re also going to talk about one of the most famous buildings in New York City, the Chrysler Building. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our first topic on this Café is a famous accident – a bad thing that we didn’t want to happen, but happened anyway. That is the Three Mile Island nuclear accident back in the year 1979. I was a . . . let’s see, a sophomore in high school, sophomore and junior in high school (my second and third year in 1979), so I remember this accident – this “disaster,” we might call it – very well. Here’s what happened.

There is a nuclear power plant located in Pennsylvania, which is a state in the eastern part of the U.S. next to the state of New York. The nuclear power plant was located at Three Mile Island. A nuclear power plant has what’s called a “nuclear reactor.” A “nuclear (nuclear) reactor (reactor)” is basically a machine that controls the chemical reactions inside of the power plant so that nuclear energy is released in a very controlled way, not as an explosion as you would find, say, with a nuclear bomb.

Nuclear power plants, of course, are popular in many different countries, and they were and still are popular here in the United States. Now, at the center of a nuclear reactor is what’s called the “core” (core). The core is an area where the nuclear energy is produced. The core contains fuel for the reactor, and it has tubes or passages through which the fuel, the energy from the reaction, flows. It also has a very important element, which is something that cools the core to make sure that the core doesn’t get too hot from all these chemical, nuclear, reactions.

What keeps the core cool is something called “coolant” (coolant). “Coolant” is a kind of material that is used to lower the temperature or remove the heat from the core. Usually water is used as a coolant, or at least that was the common coolant back when this power plant was built. The Three Mile Island plant, or power plant, was built in 1974, or at least it was put into operation – it began operating – in 1974.

In March of 1979, there was some sort of problem, some sort of malfunction in one of the two major parts of the plant, one of the two reactors. A “malfunction” (malfunction) is when something doesn’t work correctly, when a machine doesn’t work correctly. In the case of the Three Mile Island power plant, the malfunction had to do with that coolant, that water that was supposed to take the heat from the reactor.

Unfortunately, the coolant water in the core was not being removed, and this was causing the reactor to become too hot. The machines that control the reactor shut the reactor down. It basically was turned off, and that was what was supposed to happen if there were this sort of problem. So far, so good. However, another problem developed, a problem with one of the valves connected to the cooling system.

A “valve” (valve) is a tube that can be opened or closed in order to control the movement of gas or liquid through a pipe. It’s like a light switch for your electricity in your house. If a valve is open, that means that liquid can go through the pipe. If the valve is closed, the liquid cannot move through the pipe. Unfortunately, at Three Mile Island, one of the valves also malfunctioned. The valve was supposed to close once the correct amount of water, of coolant, had been removed.

Unfortunately, the instrument that showed the people working at the plant whether the valve is open or closed wasn’t working correctly. The “instrument” here refers to some machine or device that you use to measure something. This instrument was measuring whether the valve was open or closed. So, when they thought the valve was closed, in fact, it was open and it was letting this water leave – blow out of the core.

There were no instruments that told people working at the plant whether or not there was enough coolant water in the core, so they didn’t know that there was a problem at first. So, this coolant water continued to go out of the core, and eventually the core became exposed. “To be exposed” (exposed) means to be uncovered. In this case, without the coolant water there to cool it down, the core began to get too hot. This in turn caused even more problems.

Fortunately for everyone, the power plant was built according to the guidelines, the official rules for this sort of power plant, and a greater disaster was prevented. Unlike other nuclear power plant disasters, no one was hurt or injured because of this accident. Nevertheless, it was a very scary time for the country. The United States, like many countries, had been relying on nuclear power as an important source of energy. So, when there’s this sort of accident, it makes people very nervous.

In fact, as a safety precaution, in order to make sure no one was hurt, most of the area around the power plant was evacuated. “To evacuate” (evacuate) means to move people away from a dangerous place to a safer place. Finally, in early April, the problem was solved and the people were able to move back to their homes in the areas surrounding the power plant.

The Three Mile Island accident was a very important one in the United States in terms of how it thought about nuclear power plants and how it regulated, or controlled, their construction and use. Interestingly enough, the Three Mile Island plant is still working. The first unit, the first reactor, continues to be used. The second reactor, the one with the problem, is not used.

Now let’s turn to our second topic on this Café, which is a famous building not too far away from the Three Mile Island power plant in New York City. This building is called the Chrysler Building. The Chrysler Building is one of the most famous buildings in New York. It’s located on the island of Manhattan, the downtown area of New York City, on the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. It’s right in the middle of the downtown area.

It’s basically an office building that was built for a famous car company called Chrysler Corporation (or at least, that’s what it was called back then). The owner of the Chrysler Corporation, Walter Chrysler, commissioned a building to be built for his company in New York City. “To commission” means to order or request something be built or created. You can commission a piece of music, for example. You can pay someone to write a piece of music for you. Here we’re talking about commissioning a building, and that’s what Walter Chrysler did.

To understand why the Chrysler Building was built, you have to understand a little bit about the United States during this period of the 1920s. The 1920s was a very successful period in American history, economically speaking. Lots of people were getting rich, technology was being developed, the country was growing and expanding. New York City in particular was growing a great deal during this time. There was a lot of money coming into the city.

There was at this time what we might refer to as a “competition” to see who could build the tallest building in New York City. There was an attempt to build the tallest skyscraper in the world. A “skyscraper” is a very tall building, hundreds of feet high. Well, there were a couple of different companies that were trying to build a tall skyscraper, and Chrysler was one of the people who wanted to have the world’s tallest building.

Chrysler worked with a then-famous architect by the name of William Van Alen to design the building. Van Alen’s design is now considered one of the best examples of a particular design style popular in the 1920s, called “art deco.” “Art deco” (deco) is a style that was quite popular, as I say, in the ’20s and ’30s. It had some very distinctive lines, some simple shapes, often bright colors. These were some of the elements in the art deco design. The Chrysler Building has many of these design elements in it.

Van Alen’s design was to build, originally, a building that was going to be about 900 feet tall. However, there were other people, remember, who were trying to build tall skyscrapers, so Van Alen came up with the idea of adding a tall spire on top of the building so that it would be larger than any of the other buildings that were being constructed at that time. A “spire” (spire) is like a tall pole or a tall rod.

Now, the design of the Chrysler Building is interesting because on the top of the building, it looks as though there were a crown on top of the building. A “crown” (crown) is what a king or queen wears on top of his or her head. The Chrysler Building itself has what looks like a crown on top. It’s quite beautiful. And in the middle of that crown there is a spire that goes up higher than the originally planned building. With the spire, the Chrysler building was 1,046 feet tall. (That would be about 318 meters for the rest of you.)

At the time, then, at the time it was opened, it was the tallest building in the world. Chrysler, as I mentioned earlier, was the head of a large car company, the Chrysler Corporation, and because of that fact – because Chrysler was paying to have the building built – he requested that certain images that were part of the design of the cars be put on the building. These designs were put on the building as decoration.

He also asked that parts of the building be put in a new strong material at that time called “stainless steel,” which was a material that was used in some of his cars. One of the advantages of stainless steel as a material is that it did not rust. “To rust” (rust) means for a metal to turn brown or orange because of a chemical reaction. If you go and look at the Chrysler Building, you’ll see these particular design elements. You can especially see them on the lower parts of the building on what is called a “frieze” (frieze).

A “frieze” is a wide, horizontal piece of art that is usually carved or painted either on a wall or on the bottom part of the ceiling. The most famous frieze in the world probably is the one that was on top of the Parthenon in Athens, a large portion of which is to be found not in Athens, but in London. But we won’t talk about that here. The frieze on the Chrysler Building shows a lot of these design elements and is considered one of the best examples of art deco architecture in the world.

Construction on the Chrysler Building began in 1928 and was finished in 1930, when the building opened. It was built very quickly, and yet despite the fact that it was built quickly, no one died during the construction of the building. As you know, when any large building is done, often – unfortunately, tragically – some of the workers end up dying in the construction, but this did not happen with the Chrysler Building, fortunately.

The Chrysler Building was the first man-made structure to be more than a thousand feet tall, but the building’s claim to being the world’s tallest building did not last very long. In fact, the following year, in 1931, another new building opened in New York City, the Empire State Building, which was just a little higher than the Chrysler Building.

Of course, many other buildings in the past 50 years have been built that are even taller than that, but at the time, during the period in American history when businesses were growing, it was important for American businesses to have these symbols of power, and the Chrysler Building is certainly that.

If you go to New York City, you might want to visit the Chrysler Building. Most people who go to New York visit the Empire State Building or one of the other tall buildings there, but the Chrysler Building is a particularly beautiful one, and I think you would enjoy at least driving by it on 42nd and Lexington and taking a look at it from the outside, if not going in to the building itself.

Now let’s answer some of the questions that you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Iman (Iman) from Iran (Iran). Iman wants to know the differences between “quarrel,” “argument,” and “controversy.” Let’s start with “quarrel” (quarrel).

A “quarrel” is an angry disagreement, typically between two people who are normally friends with each other. You could talk about a husband and wife quarreling over something. Notice we use the preposition “over” with this particular verb. “We were quarreling over who was the best basketball player,” or “We were quarreling over which team would win the World Series this year.” So, we might say that a quarrel is a particular kind of argument that usually takes place between two people who are normally friendly to each other.

An “argument” is an exchange of different or opposite views, usually with some sort of anger involved, though not always. Unlike a quarrel, you can have an argument with anyone. You could have an argument with a person at the grocery store that you don’t even know. You could have an argument with your boss. Usually the word “argument” implies that one or both people are angry over something. If you don’t get angry, if everyone keeps calm, we might call it a “disagreement,” but if you call it an “argument,” it’s usually a little more serious than a disagreement.

Finally, “controversy” (controversy) is a disagreement that lasts a long time and that often involves strong emotions. A controversy is usually also something that is public. It’s something that everyone is talking about or that is in the news. Sometimes we use the word “controversy” not to refer to a specific disagreement between two people or two groups of people, but to refer to something that someone did that many people don’t like or many people disapprove of. That could also be a controversy.

You might have an artist, for example, that paints a painting that some people think is offensive or is inappropriate in some way. There might be a controversy over that painting. Notice also we can use that word “over” with controversy just as we use it with quarrel. You could also say someone had a “quarrel about” something or there was a “controversy about” something – that is also common in spoken and written English.

Our next question comes from Ediney (Ediney) in Brazil. The question has to do with the difference between “concerned” and “worried.” “To be concerned” (concerned) means to be bothered or troubled about something. It can mean also to be worried about something, to be anxious about something.

So what’s the difference between “concerned” and “worried?” Well, we usually use the word “concerned” when we are anxious about something or worried about something, but it’s not serious. You’re not panicking about it. You are not getting too upset about it. “I’m concerned about the fact that it’s already eight o’clock and we have to be at the restaurant at eight thirty.” If you said, “I’m worried about it,” that involves a stronger emotion, a stronger sense of anxiety about something that is going to happen.

So, you can be concerned about something. You can be worried about something. If you are worried about it, you’re in a way very concerned – so concerned that it may be upsetting you emotionally.

Finally, Yifan (Yifan) in China wants to know the meaning of the phrase “amounted to.” “You will never amount to anything,” his father said. What does that phrase mean, “to amount to” something? “To amount (amount) to” something means to reach a certain level, to be capable of doing something. If someone says, “You will never amount to anything,” the person is saying you will never do anything good or worthwhile in your life. It’s a pretty serious thing to say to someone, a very negative thing to say to someone.

There are other uses, however, of this phrase “amount to,” or “amounted to.” It could also be used to mean simply “to have a total of,” as in when you add things together. “This project amounted to 200,000 dollars.” That means this project cost 200,000 dollars. We had to spend 200,000 dollars in order to do this project.

The word “amount” by itself simply means the number of something. You can talk about the amount of money you have in your bank account or the amount of beer you drank at last night’s party. These would all be possible uses – some happy, some not so happy – of the word “amount.”

If you have a question or comment, happy or sad, email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2014 by the Center for Educational Development.

nuclear reactor – a machine that is used to control chemical reactions so that nuclear energy is released in a controlled way instead of in an explosion

* Nuclear reactors produce enough energy for this entire part of the island.

core – the area of a nuclear reactor where the nuclear energy is produced

* Anyone working near the core must wear a special protective suit so that he or she will not be harmed by the heat and radioactivity.

coolant – a type of liquid or gas that is used to remove the heat from something

* When the car ran out of coolant, the engine overheated and started producing smoke.

malfunction – when a machine or piece of equipment does not work properly

* Luckily for Liesl, she had saved the documents she was working on before her computer suddenly had a malfunction and froze.

valve – a tube with one or more ends that can be opened or closed, used to control the movement of liquids

* The plumber closed the valves that allow water into the pipes so that he could remove a damaged section of it.

to be exposed – to become uncovered and able to be seen

* The water level in the lake got so low that, in some parts, the plants at the bottom were exposed to intense sunlight.

guideline – a general rule or recommendation about how to do something

* The guidelines stated that anyone having surgery should not eat or drink anything for 12 hours before their scheduled operation.

to evacuate – to leave a dangerous place; to remove people from a place because of possible danger

* When the smoke alarm went off, everyone evacuated in case there was a fire.

to commission – to order or request that something be built or created

* Pierre decided to commission a family portrait and hired a painter whose work he liked.

art deco – a style that was used in the 1920s and 1930s in art, decoration, and building that tends to have bright colors, and clear and large shapes and lines

* The decorative window was clearly art deco with its bright colors and the many triangles and squares that made up the image of the sun.

to rust – for a metal to turn brown or orange because of a chemical reaction between the metal and liquid

* It’s no surprise that the car had rust on its hood and doors after being left out in the rain for years.

frieze – a wide, horizontal piece of art that is usually carved or painted on a ceiling or wall

* The frieze on the top of the Parthenon in Athens shows images of the gods of Ancient Greece including Zeus and Hera.

quarrel – an angry argument or disagreement, typically between people who are usually friendly

* The quarrel between our two families have lasted several years.

argument – an exchange of different or opposite views, typically a tense or angry one

* It’s not uncommon for brothers to have arguments, but recently, Jeb and George have disagreed on nearly every topic.

controversy – a public disagreement, typically lasting a long time and involving strong emotions

* The school principal started a controversy when he allowed a girl to become a member of the boys basketball team.

concerned – troubled; anxious; worried

* Jacqueline approached the hurt little girl with a concerned look on her face.

worried – anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems.

* We’ve all been worried about Samuel’s health ever since he started drinking heavily.

amounted to – come to be when added together; with the total of

* All of the angry letters to the TV station amounted to nothing when the station owner ignored them and made no changes to programming.

What Insiders Know
Christ Church

Eleven American buildings have “held the title of” (been recognized as; been called) “the tallest building in the world.” Within the U.S., some of the early “record holders” (person or thing noted as the biggest, tallest, best, etc.) were “churches” (religious places for worship).

Even before the American “colonies” (land owned by another country, in this case, Britain) became the United States in 1776, there is a record of which buildings were the tallest. From 1754 to 1810, the tallest building in the United States was Christ Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is located in an old neighborhood in Philadelphia and has a height of nearly 197 feet (60 meters).

The original Christ Church was “founded” (created; built) in 1695 by member of the Church of England, who built a small wooden church at this “site” (location). They “outgrew” (found that the space was too small for the people who wanted to use it) the small church and decided to build the most “impressive” (causing others to admire it) church in the colonies at the time.

Christ Church was attended by some of the most important and well-known “figures” (people) in American history. These included the United States’ first president, George Washington, and the “inventor” (creator of new things) and “statesman” (important person in politics) Benjamin Franklin.

Christ Church is listed as a National Historic Landmark, an official government “designation” (title; description) for very important buildings and structures. It continues to be used as a church today. It is also a popular “tourist attraction” (place many visitors want to see), with about 250,000 visitors each year.