In reality, radioactive emissions were contained under the dome at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, but in this story, a large area of Pennsylvania that was downwind was contaminated and had to be evacuated. The economy of the region, and of the United States, went into a sharp and lasting decline. But fortunately Philadelphia was just outside the danger zone. Until the characters in this story discover a long-suppressed report showing that Philadelphia had not escaped being blanketed with radiation.

English-language story, anthologized presumably after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.


Could it be Mummer Kiss by Michael Swanwick? I suspect this isn't the story you're thinking about because it's set a hundred years after the Three Mile incident and I think you'd have remember that. However it does match the description pretty well.

As you say, the meltdown had resulted in massive contamination producing an area called The Drift, but it had apparently missed Philadelphia. This story is set a hundred years after the accident and a reporter called Suzette Fletcher has been investigating it. At the end of the story she is murdered but her friend Keith Piotrowicz finds her report showing that Philadelphia had in fact been contaminated:

Keith riffled through thin bundles of paper labeled “Reactorville,” “Mutations/Disease,” “Mutagenic Offspr.” and the like. Halfway through, he hit pay dirt: a bundle labeled “Phila/Drift.” He returned the other papers to their sheath, and began reading.

It’s the best-kept secret in Philadelphia. The infant mortality rate is not a matter of public record. People disappear into the hospitals and the word filters out that they died of “pneumonia” or “flu” or “superflu.” Not a person in a thousand suspects that Philadelphia lies within the Drift.

The name refers to a group called The Mummers who came to control the city in the chaos following the meltdown. The Mummer's Kiss means you've been targeted for assassination on the grounds you're a danger to the city.

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  • @John Rennie Yes, thank you very much! I remember "The Drift", and the setting is right although I wasn't sure enough of it to include it in the original post. "It's the best-kept secret in Philadelphia" was a memorable phrase. And I recall other stories read in the anthology Universe 11. – Invisible Trihedron Jul 28 '19 at 12:51
  • Mummers are a real thing in Philadelphia. mummersmuseum.com/?page_id=5 – RonJohn Jul 28 '19 at 18:32

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