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Missteps In Japan Recall Pennsylvania’s 1979 Nuclear Accident

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(Reporters cover Pres. Jimmy Carter's visit to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979.  File photo)

(Reporters cover Pres. Jimmy Carter’s visit to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 1979. File photo)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan is bringing back bad memories for some of the people involved in a similar accident 32 years ago, at Three Mile Island, in central Pennsylvania.

Richard Maloney, a longtime public relations wizard for Septa, has his roots in the news business: he covered the Three Mile Island accident for KYW Newsradio.

Today, he finds himself drawing parallels between the handling of that event and the nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

“The problem I think they’re encountering right now is credibility and what they’re telling the public,” Maloney says of Japanese officials dealing with the press.  “On the very first day of the accident at TMI, a vice president of the company from Met Ed came and addressed the assembled reporters and essentially said that everything was under control, that there wasn’t a problem.  But it was obvious that they did have a problem,” Maloney recalls.

thornburgh denton Missteps In Japan Recall Pennsylvanias 1979 Nuclear Accident

(NRC official Harold Denton, left, and Gov. Richard Thornburgh answer reporters questions after the Three Mile Island accident.)

It took several days before Pennsylvania governor Richard Thornburgh and officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (right) stepped in and restored credibility.

Still, the situations are different, Maloney says. At TMI there was one reactor in trouble; in Japan there are four.

And Maloney says the images of a helicopter attempting futilely to dump water on the empty fuel rod pools show just how desperate the situation there has become.

Reported by Paul Kurtz, KYW Newsradio 1060.

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