The well-known safety flaws of Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors have gained significant attention in the wake of the four reactor accidents at Fukushima, but a more insidious danger lurks. In this video nuclear engineers Arnie Gundersen and David Lochbaum discuss how the US regulators and regulatory process have left Americans unprotected. They walk, step-by-step, through the events of the Japanese meltdowns and consider how the knowledge gained from Fukushima applies to the nuclear industry worldwide. They discuss "points of vulnerability" in American plants, some of which have been unaddressed by the NRC for three decades. Finally, they concluded that an accident with the consequences of Fukushima could happen in the US.
With more radioactive Cesium in the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant's spent fuel pool than was released by Fukushima, Chernobyl, and all nuclear bomb testing combined. Gundersen and Lockbaum ask why there is not a single procedure in place to deal with a crisis in the fuel pool? These and more safety questions are discussed in this forum presented by the C-10 Foundation at the Boston Public Library.
Special thanks to Herb Moyer for the excellent video and Geoff Sutton for the frame-by-frame graphics of the Unit 3 explosion.
David Lochbaum: Good evening. I appreciate C10 for hosting this event and you all for turning out.
For those of you who do not know me, my name is David Lochbaum.
For those of you who do know me, my name is also David Lochbaum. For some reason it works out the same either way.
Arnie and I are going to present what happened at Fukushima and why those vulnerabilities plague U.S. reactors, Seabrook, Pilgrim, Vermont Yankee. The type of reactor really did not matter. The primary cause at Fukushima would have knocked down any one of our plants. So it is not a direct problem with GE reactors or boiling water reactors, it is a problem with nuclear reactors that we need to address.
There were six reactors at Fukushima. Three of them were operating at the time; three of them were shut down for scheduled refueling at the time.
Boiling water reactor on the left hand side. The nuclear fuel was inside a reactor vessel. The heat from splitting atoms is used to warm water that is flowing upwards through the reactor core. That heat causes the water to boil. The steam leaves the reactor vessel and is carried through piping to a turbine that is connected to a generator. The spinning turbine generates electricity that goes out on the wires to consumers down the line. The steam leaving the turbine is then passed into a condenser, a large metal barn basically. In this case, seawater was passed through tubes inside that condenser to cool the steam down, convert it back into water. The condensed water was then sent back to the reactor and used over and over again to remove steam, make steam and spin the turbine. The warmed seawater was returned to the Sea of Japan (Pacific Ocean) for further use.
This is called a simplified diagram but looks a little more complicated than the last one. The red portions show the steam lines going from the reactor vessel to the turbine, as the earlier, even simpler diagram showed. The light blue lines, cyan lines, show that the water going back from the condenser to the reactor vessel. This will come in more important in just a second . . .
When the earthquake occurred, these reactors -- because Japan is kind of susceptible to earthquakes -- those reactors automatically shut down within seconds when they detected ground motion caused by the earthquake. So within seconds of the earthquake, sensing that, the control rods inserted into the nuclear reactor core stopped the nuclear chain reaction and turned the reactors off. About a minute later, the turbine tripped. There was not enough steam going through the turbine any more so the turbine tripped. The earthquake knocked out the electrical grid, the normal source of power to the plant. When the turbine tripped, the generator tripped, that meant it was not producing any electricity for the plant either. So the earthquake and the turbine trip took away the normal source of power for the plant.
The red line shows the steam line going from the reactor vessel to the first valve that is inside the reactor containment building. The loss of power caused those valves to fail-safe. The fail-safe position for those valves was closed, which meant the steam was no longer going down the pipe, or at least no further than that closed valve.
In that case, you have steam still being produced by the decay heat being put off by the fuel in the reactor core, so you had to have something to deal with that energy that is still being produced. At Unit 1, which was different than Units 2 & 3, Unit 1 was the oldest of the reactors at Fukushima. That plant had what was called an isolation condenser, which is shown on the left. It is a big tank of water that has tubes that flow through it. Actually there are two tanks of water, each with tubes flowing through it.
Shortly into the accident, the little valves circled in yellow automatically opened because the pressure inside the reactor vessel was rising too high to protect the reactor vessel from bursting like a balloon or the piping from bursting due to too much pressure. The high pressure automatically opened that valve, allowed steam from the reactor to flow through the tubes inside this large tank of water, where it got cooled back down into water and then gravity drained that water back into the reactor vessel. So that isolation condenser controlled the pressure inside the reactor vessel and also controlled make up. There is no steam leaving. It was all being reused, so the amount of water in the reactor core reactor vessel remained the same.
The operators about 11 minutes later turned that system off. As in Three Mile Island, you turn off emergency safety systems, you are basically toying with the Devil and the Devil wins.
But they turned the safety system off. They closed that valve 11 minutes after it opened because the temperature of the water inside the reactor vessel was cooling down at 300 degrees an hour. It is a big piece of metal and there are limits on how fast it heats up or cools down, because you want to control the expansion and contraction, so it does not break. It was cooling down faster than they wanted it to, well above the 100 degree an hour limit, so they turned the safety system off. When they did that, they lost the way to handle the pressure buildup inside the reactor vessel, so the reactor vessel finds it’s own way. It uses some safety relief valves that discharge the steam to a different place that is called the torus or suppression chamber. In this design it is a large metal ring, looks like a donut made out of metal, nuclear sized, that holds about 2 1/2 million gallons of water. The steam from the reactor vessel is then routed down into this large body of water.
That is controlling the pressure, but with no make-up, and there is absolutely no make-up for this type of plant. Ultimately, as you discharge that steam into the torus, the water level inside the reactor vessel kept dropping. As the steam left, there was less and less water inside the reactor vessel. It started out with about 15 feet of water, normal water level to where the top of the core was. It was just a matter of time before . . . I call it the nuclear wick. They lit the wick on a nuclear candle. It just took time for that to melt down.
During normal operation, the temperature inside the fuel pellet is up to about 1600 degrees. That heat drops as it moves through the gap between the fuel pellets and the fuel rods. Fuel rods are 15 foot long hollow tubes of metal with fuel pellets stacked in them like peas in a pod and welded from top to bottom. As the temperature inside the fuel goes through that gap, goes through the metal cladding and reaches the water, it drops down to about 560 degrees on the surface of the fuel cladding. As the water level dropped lower and lower, the water was doing less and less cooling, less and less removal of that heat. As a result, the fuel pellets warmed up, the fuel cladding warmed up. As the temperature of the fuel cladding exceeded 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, you start getting a chemical reaction between the water the zirconium metal that produced a large amount of hydrogen. A very large amount of hydrogen was created.
Hydrogen has a lot of good properties, but it also has a lot of negative properties if anybody remembers the Graf Zeppelin, the Hindenburg. When hydrogen ignites, it burns very rapidly. There is a system installed at these plants to control that. There is a lot of talk about a hardened vent. This diagram shows that hardened vent. It is located on the left hand side of the screen. The turbine is on the right hand side. The little building that surrounds what looks like an inverted light bulb is the reactor building. The way it was supposed to work, the way it was designed, as steam carried hydrogen down into the torus, the hydrogen bubbled up through the water and collected in the air space above the water in the torus. There is a valve that can be opened that allows that air space which includes hydrogen and radioactive materials, to go out through an 8 inch diameter pipe, directly out to an exhaust in the roof of the building. It passes through the reactor building, but it is supposed to be on the inside of that pipe where it goes out through the exhaust, the chimney basically.
It did not work for some reason. The operators mainly opened that valve because the valve is motor controlled. And without electricity, a motor operated valve does not move. So they had to go down and crank open that vent in an area that was very hot, very dark and very nasty. It took them awhile to do that. It took longer than they would have liked.
During normal operation, the yellow circle surrounds a filter system that is used to filter the radioactive releases from the plant. There is a charcoal filter and a HEPA filter that reduces the amount of radioactivity that is vented out the stack.
During accident conditions, there is another filter system that is supposed to do the same thing for anything that collects inside the reactor building. However, both of those systems need electricity to work. Neither of those systems work when you do not have electricity.
For reasons unknown, but hard to deny, the hydrogen got into the reactor building and then blew up. Not once, not twice, not three times, but four times. I am not sure exactly how it happened in any of those times. It was not supposed to be in those buildings. There are no detectors to detect hydrogen in those buildings, other than missing walls and roofs perhaps.
But at some point, on Saturday morning, March 12th, Unit 1 blew up. The hydrogen collected and detonated, blew out the sides of the building and the roof. The schematic on the right shows the Hatch Plant in Georgia, which is very similar to that plant and many other plants in the United States. Up to the point of the spent fuel pool, the concrete walls withstood the hydrogen explosion. From that point on, it is a sheet metal siding, not unlike a Sears storage shed. I have nothing against Sears or their storage sheds, but it is really not a place to store nuclear waste.
The picture on the left proves that out. That is Unit 1 reactor building at Fukushima, with the upper part of the walls and the roof taken away by the explosion.
Arnie Gundersen: Unit 1 was the oldest plant and it had this isolation condenser that Dave was talking about.
Let me step back a little bit though. When uranium splits, 95% of the heat comes from the splitting of the uranium. But 5% comes from these pieces that are left over that are called radioactive daughter products. Now 5% does not sound like a lot, but each of the reactors at Fukushima was producing around 2 1/2 million horsepower. So 5% of that is still 125,000 horsepower of heat that you had to get rid of after the plant was shut down. Those horses were in a room that was 12 by 12 by about as high as this. So put 120,000 horses in a room like that and you can imagine that they are going to turn out a lot of heat that has to be dissipated. Unit 1 had the isolation condenser which is really interesting. It is almost identical to a Model T, the way the Model T was cooled. The model T had a gravity fed cooling system on it.
Unit 2 and 3 had something called the RCIC Turbine, and that is the first piece of information here. This is kind of neat. It uses the steam from the nuclear reactor to spin a turbine. Just like in Unit 1, there is all this heat producing steam. The isolation valves were closed, so the steam was not going anywhere. And the turbine spun, which in turn, turned a pump, so there was no electricity required to turn that pump. It was using the decay heat steam which is kind of neat, except, you guessed it, the valves that worked that system required electricity. So even though the pump and the turbine would have gone on for days, when they lost the control of the valves, the RCIC Turbine stopped. Next slide.
So what does that do? The fuel gets hot. This is up on our website. There is a friend of mine . . . I had a piece of nuclear fuel, empty, that I was given when I was in the industry. It is made of a thing called zircaloy. Zircaloy is really unique in that it does what Dave said, it can spontaneously oxidize. Basically it burns when water is in touch with it at temperatures over 1800, 2000 degrees. What my friend and I did with a blowtorch was simulate what happens to zircaloy when it gets to that temperature. Now this is one fuel element, and there were thousands of those fuel elements at that kind of a condition inside Units 1 2 and 3 when the cooling stopped. What happens then is the zircaloy gets really brittle and it is being heated from the inside. The pellets that Dave was talking about are inside that piece of metal there.
The metal gets brittle and these pellets then break and fall out. And as Dave said, the centerline temperature of those pellets is easily over 3000 degrees. The pellets then fell to the bottom of all the reactors. Whether or not it was Unit 1 or 2 or Unit 3, they wound up with this molten pile of pellets on the bottom. Well there is water over the top and that was cooling the top of them.
But in the center the water could not get to. And it easily got to 5000 degrees and began to eat at the metal at the bottom of the nuclear reactor. We know now that all three nuclear reactors, this molten blob, melted through about 8 inches of steel because the isolation condenser and the RCIC turbines failed.
What does that do, it creates a lot of hydrogen. So while the blob is going down, you have got all this hydrogen building up. Next slide.
This is a camera that was mounted, the Units 2, 3 and 4. By the time this picture was taken, Unit 1 had already exploded. These pictures are at 1/300ths of a second apart. You will see on the 4th slide, that is a flame front. I calculated that the speed at which it grew, I could scale it off the building. I knew the size of the building and I knew the duration of the single flame, that that flame front was moving at around 1,000 miles an hour. That is called a detonation. When something travels faster than the speed of sound, that is called a detonation. When it travels less than the speed of sound, it is a deflagration. Either one of them are going to hurt you, there is no doubt. The Challenger explosion technically was a deflagration. And we all know that was catastrophic. But this is worse because the wave front, just basically, the pressure of the wave and the speed of the wave can do enormous damage.
This is a problem on all reactors because no one knows why this happened. Hydrogen and oxygen at room pressures should not detonate. I have talked to a bunch of chemists and we cannot figure out how hydrogen and oxygen could . . . It can deflagrate like the Hindenburg. But it should not be able to detonate. And that has major ramifications on containment design. Containments are not designed to take a detonation wave. It can crack it and I hope the NRC pays attention to that.
Two other things here. This side of the wave is straight and the direction is out and to the south, to my right. I believe that happened because the detonation began in the spent fuel pool which is on that side of the building. That would provide a wall, which it would move straight up against, but the other wall was weak and it would move out. I think that is evidence of the fact that the detonation occurred in the spent fuel pool. Next slide.
So now the gasses and the cloud of dust and the smoke from the explosion begins to dominate and the actual flame front begins to be obscured. It is actually there for quite a few frames but at this point, this thing is on it’s way. Next slide.
There are those who say that the perfect sphere might mean something. I am not sure that an explosion like that would not, why wouldn’t it form a perfect sphere? Anyway it is going up as a sphere. This is not a nuclear bomb. This is a chemical reaction, but clearly the amount of energy in is pretty enormous. Next slide. (11 times)
This happened over two seconds. Next slide. It looks like a little face up there. Next slide.
To give you an idea, this is 50 meters, this is 150 feet to the top of the building. We are talking something that is up at 3 or 4 thousand feet in just a couple seconds. Last slide.
The rubble is pieces of the roof but it is also nuclear fuel. That is what is really frightening about this. They were able to find pieces of nuclear fuel about the size of my pinkie over a mile away, between a mile and two miles away. I calculated again how much energy it would take to throw something like that in air, which would have some air resistance, and even if it was a perfect sphere which had very little air resistance, it still would have had to have been thrown at around 1,000 miles an hour, which again, it indicates that this was a detonation, not a deflagration. I think the nuclear industry is going to argue to downplay the significance of that, but the difference between a detonation and a deflagration is dramatic in containment design.
While that was dramatic, that was not what caused the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evacuate out to 50 miles. They were concerned about the spent fuel pool which would have been more catastrophic than that explosion, had it ignited. The spent fuel pool on Unit 4 had the entire guts of the nuclear reactor plus 5, 6 or 7 years worth of nuclear fuel in it.
Brookhaven has done a study where if one of the nuclear fuel pools catches fire, it will kill about 180,000 people from the cancers of the airborne plutonium. So it was not that dramatic explosion that convinced Chairman Jaczko to evacuate the Americans. It was fear of the, of what was really the worst case that has not happened yet, and that is the Unit 4 fuel pool igniting.
And it is important to know now that Fukushima had dry cask storage and the dry casks rode it out just fine. So one message for, these are typical dry casks of different designs, but these are dry casks. They were hit by the tsunami, they got wet, they got muddy, but they did not melt and they did not explode and they are still there today, essentially intact.
The lesson here for both C10 and Pilgrim Watch is to get as much of the nuclear fuel out of the fuel pools and into dry cask storage where they are much safer.
David Lochbaum: I want to talk a little bit about the primary cause of the disaster at Fukushima. This illustration shows a pressurized water reactor like Seabrook. That was intentional because really, no matter what US reactor was faced with the primary cause of the disaster, the outcome would basically be the same. The timeline might be different, the pathway might be different, but the destination would have been the same.
The primary cause was an extended loss of power at a power plant, as ironic as that might be. When the earthquake occurred, the normal grid was lost and the plant’s own in plant power from the generator was also lost as a result of the earthquake. So the earthquake gave the plant it’s first strike. It lost it’s normal supply of the power for the plant.
There were backups to that. Each reactor had two emergency diesel generators at the site, installed there for the sole purpose of providing electricity to important plant equipment if the normal source of power was lost. Within 6 - 10 seconds, the emergency diesel generator started, providing that job of providing electricity to important plant equipment. Not everything, but enough to cool the reactor core and maintain the containment integrity.
Then the tsunami arrived. In Japan, they put the emergency diesel generators in the basement of the turbine building. That provided maximum protection against the earthquake, because if you put something up on stilts and then shake it, it falls. But if you put it down low and shake it, it stays there. So it was maximum protection against the earthquake, they survived the earthquake, but it is not real good protection against floods. None, not one of the 12, survived the tsunami waves. So the tsunami came in and wiped out the emergency diesel generators to give the plant it’s second strike.
There is a backup to the backup. This plant, as almost all US plants have, were banks of batteries that provide enough power for one safety system per reactor. In Japan, the battery banks were sized to last for 8 hours. In US plants, most of our reactors are designed for 4 hours, so the chances of our reactor surviving better, with half the capacity, is probably slim.
At some point during the accident, the batteries were depleted, giving the plant it’s third strike and they were not bowling, so it was not 10 strikes they were going for, it was more like baseball. They were out.
This is a chart from an NRC study done years and years before Fukushima that shows what happens when you lose normal power supply, the backup power supply in the batteries. And Fukushima was very courteous in following the timeline that had been established years and years ago. The green dotted line vertical is 4 hours. That’s what US plants had battery capacity for.
The red dotted red line is 8 hours. At about 5 or 6 hours, on this analysis, the batteries were gone. At that point, the water level started dropping, the core started heating up. At about 14 hours, 10-12 hours, the reactor core had melted, burned through the reactor vessel.
A prediction. Not a surprise. And a few hours after that the containment failed. So you have everything bad that can go wrong, was predicted to go wrong, many, many years ago. Fukushima showed it 3 times that this analysis worked.
The result, Unit 3 is on the left, Unit 4 is on the right. It does not really matter. You can swap them. It is not pretty either way. The building exploded. There may not have been any fuel in the Unit 4 core, but it blew up as well. Sympathy pains or something.
The reactor buildings are secondary containment, the last barrier between nasty radioactive stuff and the public, meaning there are no barriers left at Fukushima.
This is not my study, it is not Arnie’s study, it is not Ralph Nader’s study, it is not Helen Caldicott’s study, it is the NRC’s study from August of 2003. They looked at what would happen at US plants if there was an extended power outage. The NRC. Not us.
This is the table for pressurized water reactors like Seabrook. The third column over shows the chance of core meltdown due to an extended power outage. The second column shows the overall risk of meltdown for that reactor that is calculated by the plant’s owner, again, not me, not Arnie, not Greenpeace or anybody else.
The fourth column is simply the fraction. What percentage of the overall chance of meltdown does station blackout represent. For many plants in the United States it is a very large chance of a meltdown if you lose power for that long. And that is even for plants that are not even on the coast. So it does not take a tsunami to knock out the emergency diesel generators at the plants in Illinois.
For Seabrook, a 22% chance of meltdown by an extended power outage, according to the NRC and the plant’s owner. They have not been saying that very loudly since Fukushima for some reason.
This table also shows the battery capacity for U.S. reactors. All the red circles are 4 hour plants. 8 hours was not enough for Fukushima. 4 hours must be enough, according to the NRC, for US reactors.
This is the table for boiling water reactors, like Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee. Again, most of the plants have 4 hours capacity batteries. Many plants have a very high chance of extended power outage leading to core meltdown. There is the LaSalle plant in Illinois, outside of Chicago, not known as a very tsunami risk high hazard area. 80% chance of core melt due to extended power outage. Which means it is equal to 4 times the risk from all other causes combined.
That was the primary cause. And while our plants are not all susceptible to tsunamis, they are susceptible to extended power outages. The August 2003 outage, Hurricane Andrew, went through Turkey Point, knocked it off, took it’s power out for 4 days. I live in Tennessee. Just across the border in Alabama, tornadoes a couple of weeks ago knocked the Brown’s Ferry Plant for a loop, literally for a “LOOP”, Loss Of Offsite Power. They were several days without electricity. Fortunately their diesel generators worked, well most of them worked, they had a few failures, but they worked overall to prevent the hydrogen explosions.
That was the primary cause.
The contributing cause was inadequate procedures. While I worked for the NRC, I taught emergency procedures to NRC inspectors. These are some of the charts we used to train them. They are identical to the ones that are used by the operators at Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee and boiling water reactors in the United States.
They provide a lot of information on how to deal with power control, water level inside the reactor vessel, pressure inside the reactor vessel, for all kinds of various scenarios. But that really only works when the accidents follow the script. All of this is based on the assumption that we get power back within 4 hours, because that is what we assumed. So therefore by fiat, power is restored within 4 hours.
In Japan, they assumed it was restored within 8 hours. So if the accident does not follow the script, if the power does not come back when it is assumed to, the operators have no guidance at all on what to do. They handled it very well. They had no guidance, they had no options. There was not much that you can do though. They had a bunch of pumps, a bunch of motors, none of which work without power. They could have pointed to the various pumps that would not work, but they could not point to any that would work.
This is an unabridged listing of all the emergency procedures that exist for dealing with spent fuel pool accidents. Every single one of them is listed here. (laughter) The good news is that the operators can neither forget, nor violate, procedures that do not exist. (laughter) I did say I worked for the NRC for a year. We can look at the good side of anything.
We think that is an area that needs to be, a gap that needs to be filled. It would be nice for the operators to have procedures in case there was a spent fuel pool accident at a U.S. plant.
Arnie Gundersen: A second contributing cause of this type of accident, again, it does not have to be a Fukushima, it can happen here, is overcrowded fuel pools.
When these plants were designed, the plan was that the fuel would stay there for 5 years and then be shipped to a reprocessing plant. When I was a senior VP in the industry, one of the things that my division did was build nuclear fuel racks. We would build nuclear fuel racks sometimes three times for the same client, because they would say, well 5, we will double it and go to 10. Five years later, they would be back knocking on the door saying we need more.
And so what has happened is that the fuel racks in the country are chock-a-block full. The reactors like Pilgrim have them (pools) very high (in the air). There are extra issues there.
But the real issue is when you have all that fuel in one place. There is more cesium in the fuel pool at Pilgrim than has been released by all the atomic bombs, Chernobyl and Fukushima … combined. So if a fuel pool has a fire, the potential is astronomical for incredible damage.
This is a picture of the Unit 4 fuel pool and it was taken in April after the explosion but before most of the water was added back in. It shows the top of the fuel racks are … the little tiny boxes … and they are exposed. So they lost enough water to expose the top of the nuclear fuel. And I will point it out here: There are a bunch of little boxes in here and there are a bunch of little boxes in here. If you are in the building of little boxes business, they are really obvious, but if you have not built these little boxes, it might take a little bit of observation. This slide is on our website, if you wanted to look in some detail.
This is a high density rack. The Japanese were much better than the Americans. They kept the fuel there for 5, 6, 7 years and then got it into dry cask storage. The Americans have almost no dry cask storage, just enough to keep enough for a full core offload. So contributing cause #2 is the fact that we put too much fuel in our fuel pools and we need to get it into dry cask storage. Next slide.
The third cause, and this is finally becoming discussed. Even if the diesels had not flooded, Fukushima would have failed anyway. Because the diesels have their own cooling pumps called service water pumps and they are right on the water. Well, the tsunami came and inundated the service water pumps. And if you drop your hair dryer in the kitchen sink and then pull it out and try to turn it on, it is not going to work very well. The service water pumps failed at Fukushima as well. When different American reactors will tell you, “Our diesels are way up high. It would not happen here.” The fact of the matter is, the pump has to be down at the water because that is where the water is. You can see on this picture, there is a bunch of rubble, right here. That is the service water pumps. They were gone. So even if the diesels had survived, even if the diesels had been up higher, they would not have had the water to cool the diesels and we would be in the same situation.
Again, so when people talk about our diesels are different from their diesels, the service water system is not. It has got to be on the water. So for instance, in Florida, at the Turkey Point plant that Dave talked about, Hurricane Andrew narrowly missed and they pushed up a huge wave of water in front. It does not take a hurricane much worse than Hurricane Andrew to inundate the service water pumps and cause a Fukushima-like accident here.
And last but not least, the lesson I learned is that no matter how smart you are, Mother Nature is smarter. This picture is taken last week at a nuclear plant in Nebraska. There are two nuclear plants, I do not know if you have been following this, but if you are in Nebraska you are following this, you better believe it. There has been an enormous amount of snow in the Rockies. Several of the rivers that run down out of the Rockies, and this is the Missouri, are at flood stage. Actually, they are way over flood stage. The Missouri is about ready to breech the levees at this nuclear plant. That is what we call a design basis accident, that is what you build for. You should not expect to have a design basis accident and everybody thinks we put some extra heft into this. This is right at the top of the levees now. Yet it happened in 1993 as well.
When you have two design bases accidents in 20 years, the lesson is, maybe we really need to build these levees higher. That would be a good idea. But it does not happen. The other piece of this is, what Fukushima told us is, we anticipated a tsunami. But we did not anticipate the mother of all tsunamis. The reason the Missouri is flooded right now is because there are 6 dams upstream that are full to capacity and if they get any fuller they are going to break. So all of the pipes are discharging all of the water they can downstream to prevent the dams from breaking.
Well I live in a “what if” world. What if one of those dams breaks? The applicant, the guy who owns this plant, does not have to design for that. So we are one dam breakage away from our own Fukushima, in Nebraska, right now.
Here, you guys had the Cape Ann earthquake. I do not know if you remember that back in 1690 or something. It leveled Boston. And do not think that the Cape Ann earthquake is the worst you can expect. I mean Mother Nature is teaching us here that she can throw stuff at us that is a lot more difficult than we have anticipated.
Yet the New England plants, their design basis earthquake is Cape Ann. And the records back then were not too, too great, so we are going on a very slim history.
On the West Coast, you have got Diablo Canyon. Three miles off shore is a fault that they discovered after they built the plant. But it is grandfathered in because they discovered it after they built the plant.
Down the coast is San Onofre and the tsunami wall there is 9 meters or about 28 feet. I think we need to re-evaluate. Mother Nature can do a lot more to us than we want to believe can happen.
David Lochbaum: After learning what some of the problems are, what we need is NRC inaction. NRC in action, sorry. Whoops. We need 3 words, NRC in action, is what we need.
It is difficult to get, I have worked for UCS for 14 years and it is very difficult. And having worked for the NRC, one of the problems I left was that there was not enough action. It was not stress that was the problem, it was shelf life. It was not really strenuous work, working for the NRC.
This is a schematic of a pressurized water reactor. What I want to talk about here is some of the safety problems the NRC knows about that they are not fixing at US reactors putting you at elevated risk. They have known about it. This first problem I am going to talk about. They first warned the President about it a few years ago. The President they warned about it is Jimmy Carter. And the problem has still not been fixed. It is not Jimmy Carter’s fault. I believe it is the NRC’s fault. The problem is, in a pressurized water reactor, if a pipe breaks that is connected to the reactor vessel, the water inside the cooling reactor escapes through the broken pipe very rapidly. The initial response for the system is to put a high pressure tank of water that has nitrogen pressure above it, that rapidly injects that water into the piping to replace the water that is escaping out through the broken pipe.
That initial makeup water gives enough time for the pumps to automatically start on the left to transfer water from a tank out back into the reactor vessel to replace the water that is flowing out both ends of the broken pipe. At some point, that tank outside is going to empty. So the next step is to take the water that is collecting in the basement of the reactor and send that through the same pumps, just realign where they are getting their water, to send that back in to cool the reactor. It spills out through the broken pipe, ends back up in the basement, and you just recycle that water to cool the reactor. The problem, that the NRC has known about, is that the violence of water jetting out the broken ends of the pipe scours paint off walls, coating insulation off piping, and any other loose material in the way, carries it down into the basement, where it clogs the screens, just like hair in the bathtub drain. And the water stays in the tub instead of getting to the pumps. The NRC knows about that since they warned President Carter in 1978.
This is an NRC study of what are the chances of this happening at the 69 pressurized water reactors in the United States. The red boxes, according to the Sandia National Lab is very likely to cause a reactor meltdown at the U.S. reactors. I will speed this up some.
A mere 53 of the 69 reactors are very likely to have this meltdown if there is an accident, 53 out of 69 since 1978. The good news is that the NRC has asked plant owners to fix this problem, giving a toaster oven to the first one who did it. (laughter) Which turned out to be Davis Bessie for other reasons. But many of the reactors are now fixed. They have put larger screens inside the containment so it takes more debris to clog it. At the same time, they have replaced the paint and the coatings and the other materials inside the containment to make it less susceptible to be broken up and carried down into the containment.
So those reactors that have fixed the problem have really lessened the likelihood that that problem exists.
However, there are 20 reactors that have just said “no”, followed Nancy Reagan’s edict and just said “no”. And the NRC has said, “Please?” “No, I’m sorry.”
We are trying to get the NRC to get those 20 reactors to fix this problem that many other reactors have fixed and hoping in the meantime that this does not happen at the plant in your backyard, because it is very likely that it will not work. But that is only if it fails.
Earlier than President Carter being warned, there was a fire at the Brown’s Ferry Plant in Alabama that was owned and operated by the Tennesee Valley Authority. A worker using a candle to look for air leaks, started a fire as candles have been known to do. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow has an alibi, but the worker using a candle to look for air leaks, started a fire that was in the room just below the control room. All the cables from the control room passed through this room right below the control room and then went out to various equipment in the plant.
So the plant had all of it’s electricity, but all the cables between the controls and the control room and the equipment in the field was lost. Unit 1 at Brown’s Ferry lost all of it’s emergency equipment. The fire damaged all the cables. Unit 2 lost most of the safety systems due to the fire.
So the NRC said this is too close. They adopted rules in May of 1980 to prevent the next Brown’s Ferry. This is the NRC’s list of plants that do not meet those regulations and do not meet an alternative set of regulations that the NRC adopted in 2004, saying could you please meet one of the set of regulations. Just say no. 50 reactors in the United States, roughly half of the fleet, are not protected in case of a fire for regulations that were adopted 3 decades ago. NRC inaction.
Ironically, one of the plants that does not meet the regulations, is Brown’s Ferry in Alabama that started it all, has absolutely no excuse, but they do not meet it.
This does not need to explain but roughly a decade ago, we suffered 9/11.
The NRC after 9/11 imposed security requirements for plants to meet to make their plants less vulnerable to acts of malice. Today, the NRC knows that there are several plants that do not meet those regulations. Their owners have said can we have more time. Apparently, we are waiting for terrorists to retire, is our new safety protection system. (laughter) If we identified security shortcomings, we go out there and fix them, we do not put them on a list and ask and beg and coax the plant owners to meet the security regulations. It would be nice if the NRC enforced it’s own regulations. NRC inaction.
Arnie and I were going to talk about some of the things that have been done at other places to try to address some of these issues. About 12 years ago, the NRC appointed me to a Federal Advisory Committee Act panel. That is an advisory body legally chartered to look at specific activity. In this case, it was reactor oversight process. There were a number of industry representatives, a number of NRC officials, there were a number of state officials on the panel and there was a token member of the public serving on that panel to look at how the NRC’s pilot reactor oversight process was working. The good news about that panel was that it was a consensus panel, so every member’s view had to be reflected in the final outcome. It was not a majority/minority report.
So when they did the follow up study, they changed it to a majority/minority point, so it did not matter what I said any more.
But at least on the initial one, it was a good oversight process and the reason I think there might be some value in this going forward, is if the NRC established a similar panel to look at lessons learned from Fukushima and how they are implementing them, we think it would be valuable to have the public represented on that panel. We would like to see at least one member from a local group, from a regional group in Region 1, Pilgrim watch, C10 or somebody, also Region 2, the Southeast, the West and the Midwest.
The public at the moment does not fully trust the NRC for some reason. And it would be good to have public representatives, to have the public’s concerns brought forth to the NRC. And have the NRC’s actions or explanations or justifications for whatever they are doing or not doing, reported back. I think that partnership would be better that the current system. So it has some value going forward. Arnie was the chair of a panel at the state level in Vermont that I served on briefly, before going to the NRC.
Arnie Gundersen: The other example is what we did in Vermont. The legislature enacted a law and empowered 5 people: one was appointed by the Governor, one was appointed by the president pro tem of the state senate and one by the majority leader of the House.
Those three then chose two more people to fulfill a five person panel. The difference between what we looked at and what Dave looked at is that States are not allowed to bump into the NRC’s jurisdiction and we could not look at safety. We could look at reliability.
For instance, the emergency core cooling systems were not a topic that we were allowed to look at. But if the testing of the emergency core cooling systems was likely to impact the length of an outage, that became a reliability issue. We issued a report after about 9 million dollars worth of work by consultants. I would like to say that went to me, but it did not. There were a team of consultants brought in to answer a matrix of questions. We had 13 different parameters and we looked at 6 different systems, so 6 by 13. And we had problems in 81 different areas that the panel identified. Now, I always wondered. Rather than suffer the public relations problems of having outsiders find the 81 problems, why Entergy did not do it themselves. But they chose not to.
The next year, they did not quite tell us the truth about an underground pipe and we were reconvened and found another 9 problems. So this public oversight group effectively identified 90 problems at Vermont Yankee and it will take at least until about 2015 or 2016 until all of those issues are resolved. And of course the license ends in 2012. So we shall see whether the extension occurs or not. It was as effective a process as any state has come up with to shine the light on the inner workings of a nuclear power plant.
Announcer: Thank you both. Enlightening but so sad. I want to remind you if you do have questions to write them on your cards and to pass those cards at this time to the outside and they will be collected.
Where are collectors? You will see our collectors coming up and down the outside aisle to collect your question cards. And just a reminder, I am going to introduce Dr. Richard Clapp and the other card on your chair is in case you have questions for him at the end of his presentation.
Cathy, are you collecting? Oh, someone is writing a question. Well, while that is going on, let me introduce Dr. Richard Clapp.
Dr. Clapp is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Health at Boston University’s School of Public Health, as well as Adjunct Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
He is an epidemiologist with 40 years experience in public health practice, research, teaching and consulting. Dr. Clapp was founding director of the Mass. Cancer Registry and served in that capacity from 1980 to 1989.
His research has included cancer in areas around nuclear facilities, in workers, and in the military. Dr. Clapp.
Dr. Richard Clapp: Thank you. I am stunned. I am actually astonished at what I have just heard. I have learned a lot. I have heard Dave speak before. I have never heard Arnie speak. I must say it is quite an enlightening experience to sit and listen to what they have to say. And I am glad they have a sense of humor because if they did not, we would all be running screaming out of this room right now, because of the design problem or the accident scenarios that they have just taken us through.
So my job tonight was actually to say: Oh, and by the way, radiation is not good for you. So, that is my role in my life’s work actually has been to document that. I will tell you a little bit about my background in addition to being the director of the Cancer Registry. Just prior to that actually, I had been part of a three agency funded federal study to look at what populations in this country could you do an epidemiologic investigation of to see what is the shape of the dose response curve at low dose. This was in the late 1970’s. This was sort of a live issue. Is it sort of a linear dose response such that with any increased radiation dose, you get an increased risk, especially of cancer or is there a threshold, or maybe is there even some kind of excess risk at low dose. Is it supralinear. That was the reason we had this research. It was called an epidemiologic feasibility study. So I actually visited some of the places Dave and Arnie talked about.
I was in Pilgrim, I went inside Yankee Rowe, I went to Indian Point, which is also on a fault line just outside of New York City. And so I was sort of introduced to this notion of there are workers especially. This was about people who worked at these places and at nuclear weapons facilities, which I also visited with my colleagues, who wear radiation badges.
And the reason is you do not want to overdose people who work around radioactive materials. Talking about ionizing radiation here, because there are, even then in the late 70’s, known consequences. So the research project was really about can we learn even more by looking at these people.
And the cancer of most interest would be, in these workers at least, leukemia. And this is because of long term low dose ionizing radiation exposure, which does increase the risk of leukemia.
So we did that, we published a report, actually a journal article, that said, we have not studied nuclear power plant workers because that is a population where at least they are supposed to wear badges all the time. There are lots of nuclear power plants. The fleet was even then over a hundred in this country and tens of thousands of workers. That study was never done, mainly because the individual utilities can control whether they are going to let some government agency, say, do a study of their workers and they never did. I am sure there are individual utilities that have studied their own workers, but those results do not usually reach the light of day.
So in any case, that is a little more of my background. It was in that project that I actually, one of the pieces of that project was to survey all the cancer registries around the U.S. to see what kind of data they collected so that you could find out how many leukemia patients were in their catchment area, so to speak, the area that they covered.
And at that time there were 37 cancer registries, not all of them states. Massachusetts, when we were doing this 1979 study, did not have a cancer registry. So I got hired to set one up, and it was because of my experience knowing what all the other ones were doing, that we established the Massachusetts Cancer Registry.
And I will tell you just one more story. As one of the things we did, we monitored cancer in all the communities of Massachusetts. But we wound up seeing excess leukemia in Plymouth and the towns right around Plymouth, the six other towns that were in the immediate vicinity of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in the early 1980’s. And 10 years earlier, (this was a General Electric boiling water reactor) there had been bad fuel that had built up gaseous radioactive material and it was vented out one of the stacks, out a couple of the stacks actually of the Pilgrim Plant.
So that was the exposure in the early 1970’s shortly after it came on line, went through 1974, where they had to vent the radioactive gas or steam, I think actually, and then ten years later this spike of leukemia happened and then a couple of years later a spike of thyroid cancer happened in the towns that included Plymouth and six towns around it.
I like to say, that is where my hair fell out. I was the director of the Cancer Registry when we saw this. It was not from the radioactivity. It was from the political fallout of that.
So in any case, that is why I guess I am here today. I want to do two things. I really just wanted to remind people in the context of all of this rush, that nuclear power is carbon free. And we do have to worry about our carbon emissions, but the industry has maintained well it is carbon free when you split atoms, split uranium in a power plant and create heat that spins turbines and becomes electricity. So isn’t that the way forward?
Well I would like to remind the people who say that, and perhaps remind you if you do not already know this, that there is radioactive exposure to the people who work in these power plants. But there is much more radioactive exposure, radiation exposure, back up the fuel chain, up the fuel cycle. In fact, in a typical power plant, if you would dothis analysis, which the NCRP, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement, actually did this for a hypothetical big power plant, a gigawatt power plant. What portion of the radiation that affects people, in order to produce the wattage that that power plant produces, what proportion of that is at various stages in the fuel cycle?
And the biggest proportion by far is the mining, the uranium mining. So it is to the miners themselves and the people who live near the mines or downwind from the mines. And in this country, that was typically in the Four Corners area of the Southwest in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah area, was where the bulk of the mining got done in this country. It is done in other countries, of course, as well. And populations and the miners in this country, that is disproportionately Native Americans, actually, in those 4 states, are getting the bulk of the radiation exposure from that stage.
And the next greatest contribution in this hypothetical gigawatt power plant is milling, where the ore that has been mined out of the ground is crushed up and roasted actually and made into a uranium oxide that then is sent on to the next stage for being made enriched and being made into fuel.
So again, the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle is where the bulk of the radiation exposure in a typically operating, say, hypothetical gigawatt power plant. It does not deal with the explosion that we just heard about, and the release of radioactive material as part of the hydrogen explosion that Arnie was showing us. But let me just say that that is a fact that needs to be taken into account. And at the other end of the fuel cycle, after it has gone through the power plant, the fuel has been stored and either is eventually taken to some underground repository, which does not exist in this country, there is ionizing radiation exposure all along that pathway, including the transportation. So it is bigger than the fuel rods. I mean it goes back up the chain of production and goes all the way through to the eventual, I guess, underground repository that some day may be built for high level waste in this country. And in the meantime, dry casks is definitely a better way to do it than what we have with these overground or even underground water pools. So anywhay I wanted to remind us all of that.
And the second thing I wanted to talk about, actually is today’s New England Journal of Medicine, sort of our medical journal of record around here, has an article, it is June 16th, called Short Term and Long Term Health Risks of Nuclear Power Plant Accidents. Sort of a timely article.
It is written by a group of radiation specialists, radiologists I guess, in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. So it is a multiple author article in response to Fukushima. I do not agree with everything that is in this article, but they do provide some useful information. I want to share some of it with you in terms of radiation is not good for us. They also point out that there is already they say17,000 and counting deaths in Japan from the earthquake and the tsunami. So the biggest portion of the disaster has already happened. And it was not because of radiation. It was because of the flooding and the tsunami and the people who were lost in that process.
They also point out that there are some heros in the utility, TEPCO, that operated the 3 operating units, 4, I guess it is.
Including one of the operators I think Dave mentioned that went down inside the containment vessel to figure out how to try to deal with things. So there are at least 6, and I think now the count is 8, overexposed workers who were there at the time and who were trying to figure out what to do and actually going into very dangerous situations. Some of them got really whopping doses.
This article talks about radiation sickness as one of the first effects of a nuclear power plant accident. Talks a lot about Chernobyl, of course, where not only was there radiation sickness, but the explosion killed a bunch of people.
But in Japan there are some people who have already gotten a whopping dose and will probably be eventually called patients with radiation sickness.
And then there are dozens more actually that have exceeded what would be the annual dose that a worker in a power plant would get in this country and probably in Japan as well, without having to be pulled off the job. That count is over 70 now. So the toll is rapidly rising for the workers at these plants. And then the unknown is still to be counted. That is what has happened with especially Iodine 131 and Cesium emissions that have blown around in Japan. And actually, it was high enough up in the atmosphere that it blew to the western part of North America. It is too early to say what the ultimate effect of those exposures is going to be. This article talks about thyroid cancer after Chernobyl and the radioactive Iodine from the Fukushima plants. There is no reason why it will also cause thyroid cancer of maybe has already in the exposed population.
And then after that, other solid tumors, and leukemia is another outcome that is likely, especially in the most heavily exposed populations. So those are the cancers, solid tumors of really of almost every type can be caused by ionizing radiation. The two that are most likely, given my experience anyway, are leukemia and thyroid cancer and then from the Chernobyl experience, children especially are exquisitely at risk for thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine.
So as if it was not bad enough, from what we have already heard, there is probably more yet to be counted. These authors in the New England Journal of Medicine make some claims or some predictions of the size of the effect. They are not doing it from an epidemiologic point of view, they are actually clinicians and they are actually advising physicians really if you see patients who are exposed in an accident, what would you be likely to see initially and then what would you see in the longer term.
So they do not really have a way of predicting the number of casualties from the Japanese experience that they say will be between Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. I agree with that. And that is a huge range of effect, but we do not know yet and we will not know for decades.
So that is actually my story. There is a whole fuel cycle that is involved in the nuclear power plant process and it goes way back up to the mining. There are permits now to start up mining again in this country.
Radiation is not good for you. And in my view, and I am not the only person to say this, the National Academies of Science BEIR 7, Biological Affects of Ionizing Radiation 7th Committee, produced a report a few years ago where they also say there is no reason to say it is not a linear dose response relationship, which is to say there is no safe dose, that ionizing radiation will increase the risk especially of chronic illness such as cancer from any dose above zero. And the higher the dose, of course, the worse the likely health effects.
So I am sorry I do not have good news to tell you and I guess my only joke was about being bald. But that is the way it is. And I will gladly take questions when you have (them).
Announcer: More not very good news. So the question generation process has worked very well.