dispersion of nuclear fallout, Doctor Vergeiner, Ignaz Vergeiner, Johannes Vergeiner, Magdalena Vergeiner, nuclear accident, nuclear dangers, nuclear fallout, nuclear meltdown, Pennsylvania, Three Mile Island, Three Mile Island Accident, Three Mile Island radiation plume, USA
“The Three Mile Island accident was a partial nuclear meltdown that occurred on March 28, 1979, in one of the two Three Mile Island nuclear reactors in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, United States.” Enrico Fermi-1 fast breeder reactor had undergone a partial meltdown in 5 October 1966. In the UK Windscale had a fire-meltdown in 1957.
“An Ominous Forecast: Black Rain
August 8th, 2013
This week’s podcast features an interview with Magdalena Vergeiner, daughter of theoretical meteorologist Dr. Ignaz Vergeiner. Magdalena currently works with the Austrian group AFAZ to translate Fairewinds website. Dr. Vergeiner was instrumental in demonstrating the extent of radiation spread from the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania. “If he had ever been asked, he would have been able to give the warning signs,” Magdalena says. “I think industries don’t want people to say what could happen and to warn people… they don’t want an expert to interfere.”
NWJ: Welcome to the Fairewinds Energy Education Podcast for Thursday, August 8th. My name is Nathaniel White-Joyal and today I am joined by Magdalena Vergeiner and Maggie Gundersen. Thank you both for joining me today.
MG: You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure to join you, Nathaniel.
MV: Thank you.
MG: I’d like to talk about my visit and initial meeting with Magdalena, how we met and why she’s here. The Three-Mile Island Opera premiered in Rome and that’s where Magdalena and I met. The film work and the concept was created by Karl Hoffman, who is a journalist and radio personality – radio newscaster in Italy. But he’s originally from Germany. And he was a personal friend of Magdalena’s father. And then the music for the opera was done by Andrea Molino, who is a composer and Guido Barbieri did the dramatization for the production. So we met there. The team asked Arnie and I to fly over and speak at different events and be there and meet them. And it was a wonderful experience last May. And this year, Magdalena was able to come here and be with us and do some background work on the Three Mile Island accident.
NWJ: Well, that sounds like a really incredibly moving piece, and hopefully, we’ll be able to link to that from our website. Magdalena, would you like to talk a little bit about your father’s work and about why you’re here in the U.S.
MV: Yeah, I would. Why I’m here, I thought he would very much like me to be here and to meet Arnie and Maggie, to meet Marjorie and Norman Aamodt, with whom he collaborated in his TMI work. And I have a personal reason to be here. I was born in Fort Collins, Colorado, although I don’t sound like it. But I went to Kindergarten in Colorado. I have some early memories about my time here, and I’m trying to bridge the gap. My father’s work, he was a meteorologist. Before he went to meteorology, he had studied mathematics and physics. And that’s important for his work because he connected all his knowledge. He was a theoretical meteorologist. Well, one of his big themes in his work was downdraft wind and dispersion of pollutants of all kinds – of smell, of radiation, of whatever – because being a meteorologist, he knew how to tackle that. If something came out, where would it go? Depending on the winds, depending on the landscape, where would it possibly harm people? That was what he was very good at.
NWJ: So he would have been able to predict who would have been at risk in a certain area when accidents did occur.
MV: If he had ever been asked, he would have been able to give the warning signs.
NWJ: Do you have any thoughts on why he was not asked?
MV: I think industries don’t want people to say what could happen and to warn people. They want everything to stay calm and they want to say everything’s under control; they don’t want an expert to interfere. That’s my personal thought.
MG: And I would agree with that thought. His work was a seminal work in how radioactivity disburses. And at first the judge on the Three Mile Island case threw that work out. She would not allow Doctor Vergeiner to testify; and then that was appealed and the testimony was finally allowed to be entered. By then, the case was so diffused that there weren’t enough plaintiffs and enough things to move on. It had started with 2,000 plaintiffs and people began to fall away as it took years and years and years to bring this research forward. And at every turn, the industry blocked it. And it’s the same thing we’re seeing happen now. Arnie was an expert witness on the Three Mile Island case, which was how he knew of Doctor Vergeiner’s work. Everything has just been covered up by the nuclear industry. And now as we’re looking at the Fukushima Daiichi accident, we can see that the models and the way of studying radioactive plume disbursement that Doctor Vergeiner created shows the truth; shows where the radiation will move. And that makes it problematic for governments because it would mean they would have to put this methodology for measurement in place early on and be able to follow plumes and warn the people. And the governments don’t want to do that. The industry blocks it and the government itself doesn’t want people to get upset and leave an area and move to another area without their controlling it.
NWJ: Well, I think there’s kind of two questions that get brought up for me. I’d like to have you explain a little bit more about your father’s work with Three Mile Island and what that testimony would have been had it been allowed, because I think it’s very important. And I’d also like to talk a little bit more about why we’re seeing this consistent cover-up from the industry, from governments.
MV: I might like to add that he has been an expert from 1982 in various studies, so there was no real reason to reject him, I think. Well, his research showed that the radioactive clouds had traveled far and that it had gone to – in various directions because the wind had changed. In the hills sometimes it stayed for a long time.
MG: When you tie that into what Arnie found actually came out of the plant, what Doctor Vergeiner found to where it moved and what Dr. Steve Wing, who we did an earlier podcast with – what he uncovered as an epidemiologist of people and illnesses and what cancers, then you can see the whole picture. And that’s one of our goals as the crew for Fairewinds to bring forward what really happened at Three Mile Island, and continue to work with Karl Hoffman as he continues his film project. It’s an amazing amount of footage that he has collected. The opera had some beautiful footage of different people in addition. One of the things that happened, and we’ll have a clip from it on the website was – your father died when, Magdalena?
MV: February, 2007.
MG: But he was filed by Karl several months before that over a period of just those several months? Or going back –
MV: Yes. Starting in September, 2006. So half a year.
MG: Half a year, Karl did continual filming and discussions about Doctor Vergeiner’s life and his work and Three Mile Island. And what was interesting to me was, here Arnie was filmed in 2011 by Karl, and Doctor Vergeiner was filmed in 2006 and on the Jumbotrons, they’re – and they look like they’re talking to each other, and it’s so moving, and they both had come to their scientific conclusions themselves from their own independent study and work. And to see it come together. And then Karl Hoffman went and interviewed and filmed Marjorie Aamodt, who was a researcher for the case, and some of the principles in the case. There were some plaintiffs from the case and people who had been made ill from the radiation. I wish more than anything that the production could come to the U.S., and somebody listening out there might want to fund it to do that. But it was very chilling and very powerful to watch this. You just felt the sadness of this technology that was out of control and no one knew it.
MV: And you felt the tension rising. As Arnie spoke, as Ignaz spoke, Arnie spoke, Ignaz spoke, until the final bang, really.
MG: We have a small clip, and I’m also asking to see if we can get some of the original footage I’ve written to some of the key people participating in that. Because I think there is a film of the entire production and I would love if we could put that up. Additionally, on the in-depth science part for our science listeners, Magdalena’s brother, Johannes Vergeiner, who is a meteorologist who has continued some of this work –he would be willing to speak with us. And I did film him when we were in Italy. And so we hope to have him come on and do an interview with us, either a podcast or a film for our scientific listeners out there. He can speak to the science involved.
NWJ: Well, that would be great. And maybe what we can do now is kind of talk a little bit about your father’s emotional connection to the Three Mile Island incident.
MV: Yeah. Yeah. He felt very strongly about that, and he became ill of cancer in December, 2004; he had his diagnosis. And even before, he had very much wanted to set this straight. His idea was he would write the book together with Marjorie Aamodt, the researcher he had worked with in the case. And it was like his last wish to help people get justice and maybe get some money out of it if they were victims. And when he became ill sometimes, he just realized he wouldn’t be able to finish that any more. And he brought Karl on. Karl had him interviewed, filmed the interviews about TMI, about energy policy, about everything that was important to him. He filmed him playing the guitar and he filmed him visiting the graveyard where his parents were buried. Ignaz was very happy to see there might be something going on even after he would have died. Yeah.
MG: I think he’s left an incredible legacy. And I know that Arnie and I other scientists we work with want to see that work brought forward and let the world know that as with Fukushima Daiichi and anyplace that has a nuclear accident, that radiation doesn’t stop at that country’s border. There’s no sign that tells the radiation, oops! This is the end of Japan. This is the end of the U.S.
MV: Or this is where people live, this is where we have a school or –
MG: Right. It just – it travels on the wind and it’s disbursed. I have friends in Wales, for example, who are hundreds and hundreds of miles from Chernobyl and they still cannot eat food from their garden. They cannot grow a vegetable garden because the soil is deeply contaminated with Cesium. So the half life of the radiation in that soil ends up being more than 300 years.
NWJ: Well, and the disbursal all over Europe and certainly all over the Eastern United States from Three Mile Island has proven to be something that we will not solve for a long, long time. And I think this is a great segue into talking about why we keep using this technology despite what we’ve seen.
MV: May I say another sentence? Ignaz, being a mathematician, knew that even with an extremely low probability of an accident, it could happen one day, just like Arnie said in his July podcast and video. Forty good years and one horrible day. And he was very aware of that, even back in the 1970’s.
NWJ: And that’s important for our listeners and for everyone to understand.
MG: And that’s what I think we – when Arnie and I were in the industry, that is what we didn’t see. And we were both taught that these systems were fail safe. That they were built with such low-risk probability, we were told, an accident will never happen. And if it does, it will be contained. And every system failed at Three Mile Island. And every system failed at Chernobyl. And every system failed at Fukushima Daiichi. And Daiichi, you can see it. You can look every day on the internet and look at the pictures and see these buildings blew up, the containment didn’t keep in the radiation, and now all of that radiation is moving into the food chain, it’s on the land, the ground. As we’ve talked about on our podcast, it’s at school playgrounds. Magdalena, you’re a schoolteacher.
MV: I am.
MG: How would you feel if there was radiation in Austria where you were teaching and you were sending the children out to play in it?
MV: When they say they will send their children to our school, we have to ask them, do you want us in the case of a nuclear accident to give –
MG: Iodide – the potassium iodide pills to protect the thyroid gland.
MV: Yes. Because they have to say yes; otherwise, we can’t give it to them. This is like –
MG: But you have it there at school? You have it there at school?
MV: We have it, definitely.
MG: You’re lucky. Our teachers aren’t allowed to have it at school. They’re not allowed to give it out.
MV: We are allowed if the parents say we can. Yeah, they have to sign that.
MG: So Austria takes it seriously enough that they allow you to have it as teachers and ask parents to do that.
MV: Yeah. They do that.
MG: That’s amazing. I wish we had – and I know the children of Japan, one of the reasons there’s so many thyroid cancers showing up is that the bureaucracy, the government bureaucracy refused to allow the potassium iodide to be released to the children.
NWJ: We lose more than we could ever possibly gain monetarily in our society, in our populations, with our children. And it’s very upsetting to continue to hear what happens, not only in Fukushima but at Three Mile Island.
MG: I feel bad. I mean my children are grown and I hope someday to be a grandparent, and I’m not yet, but I have a number of younger friends who are new parents and they’re fearful for their children. Even some of our crew have young children, and how can you raise them safely? You can’t see the radiation in the air. It’s not like if there was a fire at an oil plant and you see where the smoke is going. You don’t see it.
MV: You don’t see it, you don’t smell it, you don’t hear it, but it’s there.
MG: It’s the silent menace. Magdalena and I will continue to work together on a number of items with Three Mile Island. But also Magdalena is working one of the teams who’s doing German translations for us. And could you speak about them? Thank you.
MV: Yeah. This is a group in Austria called AFAZ that we asked to translate that. They are working for an atomic energy free future. I think I could put it that way. And I’m a supporter of the group and one of the other supporters is very fluent in English. His vocabulary is much bigger than mine. And he translates Arnie’s podcasts into German every week. And he also did some transcriptions and translations from the New York Symposium and from Akio Matsumura’s blog. So he’s very active and they all put it on their website in German so everybody can just go and read about technical details in their mother’s tongue if they are German or Swiss or Austrian. Yeah.
MG: And then we have an additional crew that’s doing that in France. And then we hope that – we’re in the process now of getting our Japanese translation. We had some website issues, but that’s coming back up and we’re going to be having all of our Japanese translations going again.
MV: And maybe I should add it’s all unpaid work. It’s just commitment.
MG: And that’s what all of our translators are doing. It’s crowd-sourcing and just like we don’t charge when we make podcasts or we make videos because we want to give that service. That’s part of our donation to the world community.
NWJ: You know, if this is something that’s important to you as a Fairewinds listener, I certainly hope that you’ll take the time to look at our site and to consider a donation so that we can keep bringing you these podcasts. Thank you both for being here today, Magdalena. We really appreciate your taking the time to talk to us about your father’s work.
MV: Thank you.
NWJ: And Maggie, it’s always a pleasure to have you.
MG: It’s always a pleasure to work with you, too, Nat.
NWJ: This podcast has been a production of Fairewinds Energy Education.” http://www.fairewinds.org/an-ominous-forecast-black-rain/ http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
Note that although Austria is nuclear free, they are surrounded by nuclear reactors in other countries, near and far.
 While the wikipedia web site, citing the US NRC, says that TMI was the only “commercial” meltdown, the Fermi Fast Breeder was privately owned-commercial. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_nuclear_accidents
There were so many partial or full meltdowns that we haven’t gotten them all straight. Most were apparently classified as research or experimental.