WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Richard Thornburgh, who rose to national prominence with his unruffled handling of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear crisis as Pennsylvania governor and later battled white-collar crime as U.S. attorney general, died on Thursday at the age of 88.
The Pennsylvania governor’s office confirmed on Twitter that Thornburgh died on Thursday. It did not give details.
During the partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, Thornburgh sought to put the public at ease, calling for a partial evacuation and overseeing cleanup efforts. It was the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.
President Ronald Reagan picked Thornburgh, a fellow Republican, to be attorney general in 1988. Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, asked Thornburgh to stay on, having briefly considered asking him to be his vice presidential running-mate.
As attorney general, he concentrated on white collar crime and drug trafficking and oversaw the prosecution over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. He served as undersecretary general to the United Nations in 1992-93.
Born on July 16, 1932, in Pennsylvania, Thornburgh earned a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1957.
Republican Senator Pat Toomey, also of Pennsylvania, wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “The steady nature in which he guided PA through the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island should serve as an example for all elected officials.”
No one died during the 1979 partial meltdown, and a federal review found minimal health effects in the 2 million people who lived near the plant. But the its name became synonymous with public fears over the risks associated with nuclear power.
(Editing by Howard Goller and Dan Grebler)