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Walter Creitz, right, president of Metropolitan Edison Company, turns away as company Vice President John Herbein answers questions at a news conference in Hershey, Pa., on March 29, 1979. The conference was held because of an accident that occurred at the company’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., that caused radiation leakage into the atmosphere. (AP Photo/Paul Vathis)

In the wake of the Three Mile Island accident on March 28, 1979, people wanted to know exactly what happened at the nuclear power plant in Dauphin County and if there was any threat to their safety.

But, plant owner Metropolitan Edison did not have a communications team to address the situation. Instead, Vice President Jack Herbein and President Walter Creitz spoke directly to reporters in Middletown.

The day after the incident, Herbein attempted to downplay the magnitude of the situation and lost his patience multiple times.

After a reporter asked whether the Three Mile Island facility was capable of handling an accident, Herbein snapped back.

“It’s possible to have fuel failure,” he said. “What’s not possibile is the hypothetical accident that you hear about where the entire core melts and spews molten radioactivity into the area for miles around and kills tens of thousands of people. That’s what we’ve been telling you is not possible. … And nobody’s ever said that this couldn’t happen.”

Watch Herbein and Creitz address a room full of reporters on March 29, 1979, in this WITF archival footage:

WITF is collaborating with PA Post and PennLive on a multimedia, month-long look at the accident, its impact and the future of TMI and the nuclear industry. That includes new documentary television and radio programs, long-form audio stories, photos, and digital videos. The work will include the voices of people affected as well as community events to engage with listeners, readers and viewers.

Join WITF for these upcoming events: