Three Mile Island Opera

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$7942

“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