TMI- A Human Perspective



TMI, A Human Perspective 

By Maggie Gundersen


I was startled in October 2011, when I received a phone call and email from Karl Hoffmann, a German Public Radio and Television (ARD) correspondent and freelance journalist, requesting an opportunity to interview and film Fairewinds’ chief engineer Arnie Gundersen for an opera about the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI).

 As the founder and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, I was inundated with requests for interviews, meetings, and technical information following the March 2011 triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi. As can be imagined, this request by Karl Hoffmann to be interviewed for an opera about the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) was certainly a surprise.


 This video is the German version of a dynamic multi-media opera entitled Three Mile Island created with Karl Hoffmann’s amazing audiovisual documentation by dramatist Guido Barbieri, composer and international conductor Andrea Molino, and impresario and musician Oscar Pizzo. The talks I had with Karl during the next several weeks led to the filmed interview of Arnie Gundersen at Fairewinds’ offices in late October that ultimately led to this German production and the subsequent Italian production that both Arnie and I attended in May 2012. In conjunction with the Italian premiere of the stage production Three Mile Island, Action & Passion for Peace organized a round table discussion entitled “The Smoke Curtain, Nuclear accidents and contaminations: what information?” [See more details below.]

 At Fairewinds’ request, our Austrian friend Andreas Kohler and other colleagues graciously translated to English and subtitled this filmed Three Mile Island live stage production so that we could share it worldwide. We are very thankful for their efforts, and to Guido Barbieri, Karl Hoffmann, Andrea Molino, the donors and so many others who made this production a reality. We also give special thanks to the victims and residents of Three Mile Island who have allowed their stories to be told, so that people around the world can have a deeper understanding of nuclear power tragedies and the smokescreen of silence (The Smoke Curtain) that governments and the nuclear industry wrap around these nuclear power debacles.


 Behind the Scenes

 Hoffmann, who has spent more than 30 years living and working in Italy as a radio and television correspondent, said this project arose from the personal friendship he developed with noted Austrian meteorologist Dr. Ignaz Vergeiner, who had completed a detailed meteorological analysis about the movement of radioactivity and the radioactive plume following the TMI meltdown. Dr. Vergeiner’s work has held up under careful scrutiny, been substantiated in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, and Dr. Vergeiner’s son Dr. Johannes Vergeiner is carrying on his father’s legacy of solid research in meteorology.

 Arnie and Dr. Ignaz Vergeiner were two of numerous experts retained to testify in the Three Mile Island class action case. Judge Sylvia Rambo, the federal judge on the case, did not allow any experts from outside the United States to testify, so Dr. Vergeiner’s testimony was never heard in court nor was his expert witness testimony allowed into the proceedings.

 Dr. Vergeiner, according to Hoffmann, was always bothered that his scientific data was discounted not because of the science, but because he was not an American citizen, even though at that time he was living, working, and teaching in the United States and was raising his children here. As a journalist, Karl became captivated by Vergeiner’s story. When Dr. Vergeiner was diagnosed with cancer, Hoffmann began a series of interviews totaling seven hours of filmed interviews with Vergeiner that are the basis for this performance.  Dr. Vergeiner was hopeful that Karl Hoffmann would publicize his work and make it known to as many people as possible.  Certainly, the human perspective created in this magnificent operatic concert fulfills that hope.

 According to ZKM Media Blog The Morning Line 

 “With his new project “Three Mile Island”, Andrea Molino undertakes to remind us of an event that happened 30 years ago and is largely forgotten: the nuclear accident that took place in Three Mile Island on the morning of the March 28th, 1979. One of the reactors in the nuclear power plant began to heat up because of a faulty cooling system − a tragedy that has been kept out of the limelight, a conspiracy of silence.

 The research of the Austrian meteorologist Ignaz Vergeiner leaves no doubt: In the first 24 crucial hours the radioactive cloud traveled much further than the authorities admitted. The damage to people, objects and the environment was serious and irreversible. Unfortunately Vergeiner’s premature death put a halt to his efforts. But he had revealed the details in a 7 hour filmed interview with his friend, the German journalist Karl Hoffmann.

 The multimedia staged concert with Molino’s music is thus based on written and videorecorded contributions by Ignaz Vergeiner, collected by Karl Hoffmann. Guido Barbieri is responsible for the texts and dramaturgy. An interactive intermedial installation − the “Cloud” − designed by a creative team of the ZKM | Karlsruhe and of the Department of Art & Media of the Zurich University of the Arts, will react in real time with the live performers and provide documentary style, factual information: the voice and face of Vergeiner, the testimonies of the survivors and the interviews with family members of the nuclear accident victims filmed on location. These audiovisual materials are continuously counterpointed by the “Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart”; the narration is reinforced and underlined by an extremely variated vocal texture. The instrumental part, performed by the “Klangforum Wien”, is also organically involved in this dialogue and with the help of amplified percussions, wind and string instruments adds meaning, lightness and expression to the element ‘air’.

 “The Cultural Turn and its Practice in the Humanities

 The climate and protection of the environment are themes that also impact upon art and which can no longer be thought of in separation; noteworthy representatives from research and politics will be discussing these themes prior to the opera evening on the panel “The Cultural Turn and its Practice in the Humanities”. The extent to which an augmentation of the three-pillar model of sustainable development − until now constituting economic, ecologic and social sustainability − surrounding cultural perspectives is meaningful forms the thematic subject in the panel discussion. The model was co-developed at the Research Center in Karlsruhe, in 1998.”

 A coproduction of ZKM | Karlsruhe, Accademia Filarmonica and Istituzione Universitaria di Concerti in Rom, in cooperation with Zürcher Hochschule der Künste

 The event is part of the 21st Europäische Kulturtage Karlsruhe

 The Meteorological Setting of the

 ‘TMI-2’ Nuclear Accident on 28 March 1979

 A multimedia staged concert upon written and video-recorded contributions

 by Ignaz Vergeiner collected by Karl Hoffmann

 Music: Andrea Molino

 Texts and Dramaturgy: Guido Barbieri

 World Premiere at ZKM | Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany, 29.3.2012

 Andrea Molino – Composition, Artistic Direction

 Guido Barbieri – Libretto and Dramaturgy, in collaboration with Andrea Molino

 Karl Hoffmann – Audiovisual Documentation

 Holger Stenschke – Sound Direction, Interactive Environment

 Bernd Lintermann, Manuel Weber, Nikolaus Völzow – Medial Staging

 Anna Falkenstern – Video editing

 Zurich University of the Arts, Department Media Arts – The Cloud, Interactive Videoinstallation

 Birgit Bücker – Voice

 Klangforum Wien

 Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart

 A project of ZKM | Karlsruhe in co-operation with Accademia Filarmonica Romana and Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti, Rome

 RAI Trade, music publisher


RISD + STEAM + TMI- A Graphic Novel

Gabriela Epstein;  an illustration student at the Rhode Island School of Design, received a Maharam STEAM fellowship to conduct follow up research on Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant over the summer to commemorate the 35th anniversary of its nuclear meltdown.

Her goal was to approach the incident from a humanistic perspective, by interviewing individuals who were involved to understand the social & psychological effects of the meltdown and its ensuing politicization. Using the interviews and additional research, Gabriela created an artistic re-telling of these stories to be dispensed by Three Mile Island Alert, a local non-profit that works with Three Mile Island to promote safety efforts, in an effort to reach out to younger generations,  so they may know the people of TMI as well as the story.

For more info on the Maharam Fellowship, check out this link!


Here is a sampling of Gabriela's amazing work, for a complete look please visit her site!:






Cry me a river, Exelon!

By Sue Prent

 Who is providing for whom? The federal government has allowed nuclear plant operators to expect American taxpayers to foot the bill to build their facilities, subsidize their insurance to the advantage of their investors, and sympathize with their complaints that clean renewables are enjoying too much support in the energy marketplace. Meanwhile, we, the people, are supposed to ignore the dirty, dangerous fuel sourcing practices of the nuclear industry, the even more hazardous, unresolved issue of nuclear waste management, and the overarching potential for terrorist exploitation.

 Not content with its lot, now that holding a federal golden ticket isn’t enough to make nuclear profitable, nuclear energy corporation Exelon is taking its crybaby act to the Illinois legislature.

 Since it operates six nuclear plants in the state, employing thousands of sensitive voters, the energy giant must think it holds a good hand for blackmail, because Exelon is threatening to close three of those nukes if it doesn’t get a mandated bump in consumer pricing.

 As the market price for nuclear power electricity continues to decline, the cost of the essential ingredient, uranium, has coincidentally begun to climb.  Now Exelon wants the Illinois legislature to bail them out…or else.

 It appears that the piteous tale of corporate greed has another side, and the cavalry has already quietly ridden to the rescue.

 PJM Interconnection, the Valley Forge, Pa.-based regional power-grid operator for all or parts of 13 states including northern Illinois, on Dec. 3 approved changes to the way electricity generators are compensated for their promise to deliver during peak-demand periods. The changes, which are subject to approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will benefit Chicago-based Exelon more than any other power company in the 13-state region, analysts say.”

 Put simply, for the privilege of operating five of its six nuclear reactors in Illinois, Exelon will earn a bonus of $560 Million in extra revenue in 2018, when the change takes effect.

 Cry me a river, Exelon!

 Meanwhile, the NRC has discounted the value of life for American citizens further in order to ease financial pressure on the poor beleaguered nuclear industry.

"If you wrap your new car around a tree beside the interstate, the U.S. government values your life at $9 million. If you’re at risk from a nuclear accident, you’re priced at just $3 million."

 And why, pray tell, would the Nuclear REGULATORY Commission do such a thing?

“Using this low value has a significant effect on nuclear plant license renewals and new reactor approvals,” said Ed Lyman, a Washington-based physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Nuclear plants are not required to add safety systems that the NRC deems too expensive for the value of the lives they could save.”

 That’s right folks: the value of human life has just been financially discounted so that nuke operators don’t have to worry too much about our safety.

 Imagine Uncle Sam paraphrasing Bob Dylan:

“When you ain’t worth nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”

Special Edition Book of the Month:



Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer by Helen Caldicott

Review by Caroline Phillips, Fairewinds Administrator

A trained physician with four decades of anti-nuclear activism under her belt, Dr. Helen Caldicott is well versed and knowledgeable when it comes to the costs and consequences of nuclear power. In her book titled, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, Dr. Caldicott discusses the nuclear industry and the government’s failure to respond correctly in the face of nuclear tragedy as first demonstrated in the meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) that began March 28, 1979.

Dr. Caldicott quotes an admission at the time of the TMI disaster by Joseph Hendrie, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), “ We are operating almost totally in the blind, [Governor Thornburgh’s] information is ambiguous, mine is nonexistent and - I don’t know- it’s like a couple of blind men staggering around making decisions (p. 67).” 

Read more here.

Also Featuring... 


If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans

By Peter H. Eichstaedt

 Award winning author, Peter Eichstaedt uncovers the devastating impact that the US nuclear age has had on the health, land, and culture of the Navajo people who reside on some of the richest uranium deposits in North America.

Working as a senior reporter for Santa Fe’s daily paper the New Mexican, Eichstaedt exposed problems with the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) to bury nuclear waste in salt mines around Carlsbad, New Mexico.  When Eichstaedt conducted his research and published in 1994, WIPP had not yet opened as an operational waste site. Eichstadt continued his investigation of the nuclear industry as a professor of English at the Institute of American Indian Arts culminating in the production of this book.

Based in Santa Fe, Eichstadt spent years collecting interviews, and data that reveals the forced sacrifice of a people. Native Americans of the Four Corners, where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet, comprised about one-quarter of the miners and millers working in the atomic mills located on the Navajo Reservation between 1950 and 1980. Despite growing evidence that uranium mining was dangerous, unhealthy, and destructive to the environment, state and federal agencies did nothing to protect their workers. Forty years later, after having given up their land under the impression that it was their patriotic duty, the Navajo people have suffered physical, psychological, and cultural devastation with little to no compensation.

            “They’re saying you have to die first before you get a [compensation] check,” says Cecil Parrish in an interview translated by his son, Wayne, outside of Cecil’s traditional Navajo Hogan.



Nuclear News:

 An additional 65,000 households in the greater Copenhagen area will be provided with CO2-free heating thanks to the conversion of the coal-fired Unit 1 at Avedøre. Financed by Danish energy companies DONG and VEKS, the last combined- heat- and- power (CHP) unit at Avedøre power plant in Denmark is to be converted into burning biomass and eventually wood pellets to generate power instead of coal and gas. The conversion which begins this month will be completed in the autumn of 2016. This green heat supply is made possible by an agreement between DONG and VEKS to supply VEKS’ customers with heat from Unit 1 at the Avedøre plant and is a significant step towards Denmark’s goal to be CO2 neutral by 2025.


 In this week’s edition of Fission Stories, Dave Lochbaum, Director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and friend of Fairewinds, points out that as 40-year old aging reactors approach relicensing for another 20-years of operation, nuclear reactor owners have identified safety upgrades for their plants but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not required any of these safety improvements to be taken.

“If these shortcomings are not rectified, Lochbaum states, we will face the increasing likelihood of populating the wear-out portion of the curve with major reactor accidents just as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and others populated the break-in portion.”

Lochbaum explains that the chance of failure over the expected lifetime of a nuclear power reactor is often represented by what is called the “bathtub curve” due to its U bathtub-like shape, meaning the failure rate is initially high, stabilizes, then increases again. When a nuclear reactor is first built, the risk of failure due to material imperfections, improper assembly, and mal-operation is high. The nuclear meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are examples of this initial risk of failure presented by the bathtub curve. Aging nuclear reactor’s degradation, rust, and embrittlement pose a steady incline of risk, referred to in the bathtub curve as the wear-out phase. Lochbaum cites recent experiences at the San Onofre and FitzPatrick nuclear sites as representing the wear-out phase in action.


 Georgetown, Texas has made the decision to become the first city in the Lone Star state to be powered 100% by renewable energy. Jim Briggs, interim city manager of Georgetown and self-proclaimed Texas pragmatist, has been a key instigator of the Georgetown utility company’s deal with SunEdison, a giant multinational solar energy company. “I’m probably the furthest thing from an Al Gore clone you could find,” Briggs says. “We didn’t do this to save the world – we did this to get a competitive rate and reduce the risk for our consumers.” When the city utility’s staffers looked at their options last year, they discovered that renewable energy was the cheapest option so with their deal with SunEdison finalized last month, all electricity within Georgetown’s service area will come form wind and solar power by January 2017.


 Last March, Fairewinds was one of the first organizations to discuss the experimental failure by the Department of Energy (DOE) in its use of kitty litter to store leftover radioactive plutonium and americium from the U.S. weapons program at their controversial nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The DOE was not forthcoming with the public about its failures that resulted in an exploding cask of highly radioactive substances and subsequent radiation releases, so Fairewinds created this video with Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen piecing together what happened, Fairewinds’ major concerns about the facility in Carlsbad, the accident, and the DOE’s lack of transparency. CNN followed up Fairewinds’ story with a call to Arnie and a subsequent interview on the matter. Now, a year later, the DOE has finally released a 277-page report admitting the radioactive leak occurred. The WIPP, closed since the explosion, might cost more than a half-billion dollars to become operational again according to the Albuquerque Journal.   Other sources tell Fairewinds that the site will never reopen, and that more radiation releases are likely.

  • published this page in Newsletters 2015-07-10 13:13:11 -0400


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