PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Few people from Pittsburgh know firsthand what it’s like to try to manage a potential nuclear disaster like Dick Thornburgh.

He was governor of Pennsylvania at the time of the Three Mile Island emergency.

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Thornburgh had been in officer only 72 days when he was told the accident near Harrisburg had just happened.

“The first day of the accident we rather naively relied on the utility as a sole source of information,” he recalled. “Turned out they were misrepresenting facts to us and not reporting accurately and we very quickly had to cast about and get other sources.”

“It wasn’t until the third day after the accident when President Carter dispatched a nuclear engineer named Harold Denton to the site at my request,” he continued. “We had a man who could give us – he had the ability to translate nuclear jargon into plain English and that made a difference.”

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Thornburgh now watches events in Japan with more than casual interest.

“I think the problem there is that they never anticipated this perfect storm of natural disasters and loss of electricity and potential radiation release,” he said. “This is unparalleled and certainly unexpected so believe me I sympathize with them greatly.”

“I’m sure there are a thousand and one things they wish they were doing differently just as we did at Three Mile Island, but the basic job is a simple one,” he said. “Bring the reactor to cold shutdown and stop any leakage of radiation.”

Even so, Thornburgh thinks the industry beyond Japan will learn from the latest nuclear crisis.

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“I guess even a radioactive cloud can have a silver lining and if that’s the case, better operating and safer standards would be a by product that is positive,” he said.