Maggie Gundersen: Hello Mr. Hirose and hello people of Kansai. I am Maggie Gundersen. I am the President and the founder of Fairewinds Associates and the founding director of Fairewinds Energy Education non-profit.
I am here today with Arnie Gundersen, my husband, and Chief Engineer for Fairewinds Associates. We are here today to talk to you about the triple meltdown at Fukushima-Daiichi. We hope to answer all your questions. I wish we could have joined you in person, but I thank you for watching this video and please send us any follow-up questions. We will be happy to answer them. Now let's bring Arnie into this conversation. Arnie, how dangerous is the situation now at Fukushima-Daiichi Unit 4, particularly in Japan with its continuous danger of earthquakes and seismic activity and chance for an additional tsunami.
Arnie Gundersen: Unit 4 has always been my biggest concern. If you watched our website on the very first week of the accident I was saying that if Unit 4 were to catch fire, you would have to evacuate Tokyo. As a matter of fact the book that we wrote talks about that a lot. It is really important and it remains the biggest concern that I have about the Fukushima site. Unit 4 has more fuel in it than any of the other units in the complex, but more importantly it has the most recently used nuclear fuel. And all of that fuel is outside of the containment. So that would make it dangerous enough. Except that also, of course, Unit 4 has had a series of explosions and is weakened structurally. Before it might have withstood a 7.5 earthquake. I believe that the structural damage to Unit 4 is so great that if there is a 7.5 earthquake, it will not withstand it.
Here is what would happen if Unit 4 were to crack and the water were to drain out of the nuclear fuel pool. The fuel is hot enough that it needs to be water-cooled. If air is all there is cooling the fuel, it will burn. It will burn the zircaloy cladding on the fuel, (and) will react with the oxygen to create a fire. And it is a fire that once it starts, cannot be put out by water. Water would make it worse. So the nuclear fuel would have to burn completely before the fire would ever go out.
In the process, all that radiation would go up into the atmosphere and blow all over Japan and all over the world.
There is as much cesium in the fuel pool at Unit 4 as there was in all of the atomic bombs dropped in all of the tests in the 1940's, the 1950's, the 1960's, and into the 1970's. All of the above ground testing has less cesium in it than is in the reactor pool at Fukushima 4 right now. So it is a grave situation. I don't believe that the Japanese Government is moving fast enough. If there is no earthquake, the plan to remove the fuel slowly is going to be adequate. But we cannot wait on Mother Nature. We have to quickly move that fuel out of that pool and onto the ground. The key here is quickly. The Japanese Government finally just this month came up with a plan to build a building around the fuel pool building and begin removing the fuel in 2013 or 2014.
I said that that is what they needed to do on the Fairewinds site in an interview with Chris Martenson a year ago. These things have been evident, but TEPCO is not moving fast enough and the Japanese Government is not pushing TEPCO to move fast enough either. I think the top priority of TEPCO and the top priority of the Japanese Government should be to move the fuel out of that pool just as quickly as possible. And in the meantime, they need to strengthen that pool to make sure that it can withstand an earthquake. Remember, that pool is not in a containment. You can look down in a satellite and see the nuclear fuel. The roof is blown off. And that is what makes it dangerous.
In America, we had the Brookhaven National Laboratory do a study to examine what would happen in a fuel pool fire. Brookhaven National Labs determined that there would be 187,000 people who would develop cancer from a fuel pool fire. It is a serious concern and I do not believe that Tokyo Electric and I do not believe that the Japanese Government is taking it seriously enough. For the last year I have been working with Akio Matsumora and finally it appears that the world community is listening to Akio Matsumora's concerns about the pool. We need to tackle this as a concerned world community and encourage the Japanese Government and encourage Tokyo Electric to solve it quickly.
Maggie Gundersen: Arnie you mentioned cesium in your earlier discussion. Why is it important? What is the health effect of cesium and are there any other radioactive isotopes that would have been released during the triple meltdown?
Arnie Gundersen: Cesium is one of many radioactive isotopes that are created in a nuclear reactor. It has got a 30 year half life which means that it hangs around for 300 years and biologically it mimics potassium. You might remember that if you have a muscle cramp, you eat a banana and it goes to your muscles and relieves the cramp. Well, cesium also goes to your muscles. It is called a muscle seeker. When it goes to your muscles, it can cause cancer, but it can also cause a variety of other illnesses.
The Brookhaven study only looks at cancer. It does not look at all the other things that radioactive cesium can do. In young children with rapidly developing muscles, especially their heart muscle, it can create something called Chernobyl Heart which is damage to the heart muscle, which once it is damaged, never ever recovers for the life of the child. So cesium is just one of many isotopes, but it is relatively easy to measure and also biologically causes almost the most damage of any of the other isotopes that are in that reactor.
Maggie Gundersen: Arnie, you have said that you believe the explosion at Unit 3 was a prompt criticality. What is a prompt criticality and why do you believe that?
Arnie Gundersen: I developed my concern about a prompt criticality because of the nature of the explosion in Unit 3. Unit 1, when it exploded, blew sideways and with relatively low energy. You can measure the rate at which it moves and it moves less than the speed of sound. And that is called a deflagration. It does not do anywhere near as much damage. When I looked at the explosion on Unit 3, however, it was entirely different. You can see it, it is not hard to see. It is called a detonation. The speed at which Unit 3 exploded was faster than the speed of sound. And the important thing is not how Unit 3 exploded. What is the most important thing is that it exploded with a detonation, not a deflagration. The nuclear industry is not paying attention to this now, but it should be, because a nuclear containment can handle the slow moving deflagration, but it cannot handle the fast moving detonation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the international community are absolutely ignoring the fact that a detonation occurred in Unit 3.
Well how did a detonation occur? That was the question I asked myself. I checked with chemists and atmospheric pressure and hydrogen will not create a detonation. Like on Unit 1 it will only create a deflagration. So I needed to figure out how a detonation could occur. But there are a couple of other clues here. One clue is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission way back in March of last year, wrote a report that is on our website, that talks about nuclear fuel being deposited on the site and nuclear fuel being discovered as far away as two kilometers.
How can nuclear fuel get blown out of a nuclear reactor? The fuel that is inside the reactor is also inside the containment and there is no indication of a massive containment failure and a massive reactor failure that could have thrown the nuclear fuel out. So I had to come up with a reason that the nuclear fuel could have been released in pieces, not little fine atoms, but in pieces which is what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says was discovered.
The only way that could happen is if the explosion occurred in the fuel pool at Unit 3. Now if you look at the video of Unit 3, the very first frames show the explosion occurring on the side of the building and that is the side of the building that has the nuclear fuel pool. It started on the nuclear fuel pool side and then worked it's way up into the massive cloud that you see. So what could have caused that? That is the question. Hydrogen would have been above the nuclear fuel, it would have been a gas above the nuclear fuel and if it had exploded, it would have pushed the nuclear fuel down.
That is not what happened. Remember, we have fuel fragments found off-site. Something had to lift the nuclear fuel up. The only thing I could determine is that it was a criticality in the fuel pool that caused the fuel to lift up. The division I ran built nuclear fuel racks for boiling water reactors exactly like Fukushima. The dense fuel racks that are now in every reactor everywhere are very close to becoming critical anyway. And in the accident situation where there was seismic event and explosions occurring, it is likely that they were very near to becoming critical. And what that means is that they were very near to becoming a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
Way back in college 40 years ago, we watched a movie called the Borax Experiment. You can find it on the web today. The explosion at Borax was a prompt moderated criticality. It looks almost exactly like the explosion in Fukushima unit 3. So an image I had from 40 years ago led me to conclude that the same thing happened in Unit 3. That a criticality occurred in the fuel pool and it pushed some of the nuclear fuel up into pellets and the pellets wound up scattered around the site.
Now, the criticality is called prompt moderated criticality. It is not a bomb. A bomb is a prompt fast criticality. This reaction occurs slower than a bomb, but faster than what occurs inside a nuclear reactor. The Borax experiments were designed to test just how violent that reaction could be. I think if you look at Borax and compare it to Fukushima Unit 3, you will see that there are an awful lot of similarities.
Again this is a theory, but it is the only theory that accounts for the explosion occurring on the side where the fuel pool is, and it is the only theory that creates the uplift force that caused the fuel particles to be thrown about the site and discovered as far as 2 kilometers away.
Well there is one more piece of evidence and that is that the roof over the fuel pool has been totally destroyed whereas the roof over the nuclear reactor and the containment, collapsed downward. We talk about that in a video on the site as well and I think that is another important indication that whatever it was that caused the fuel to lift occurred on the fuel pool side of the building, and not in the middle where the nuclear reactor was.
The videos after the accident and after the explosion show containment leaks as well. You will see in the weeks afterward, steam coming from the center of the building. And I believe that the containment lid lifted on Unit 3 and never went back down straight, so it has lifted and twisted sideways and radioactive gasses are lifting from that containment lid. But there is not enough evidence to say that that is what caused the explosion that we saw during the accident. The jury is still out and will be for 10 years until we get inside the Fukushima reactor to see what the damage is. But right now, I think my theory accounts for the damage, the speed of the shock wave, and also the fact that the contamination has been found as far away as 2 kilometers.
Maggie Gundersen: Arnie, let's talk about the Unit 4 spent fuel pool. There have been a lot of questions about that and a lot of concerns right now. Was there a hydrogen explosion at the Unit 4 spent fuel pool and if there was, what is a hydrogen explosion and why would it have occurred there?
Arnie Gundersen: One of the biggest mysteries at Fukushima is how did Fukushima Unit 4 explode? There are a couple of very, very grainy videos that clearly show it did explode. It was a different type of explosion and perhaps a fire and an explosion that went on for a period of days. So exactly how it did explode is one of the big questions about the Fukushima accident.
There are 3 competing theories. Tokyo Electric says that the radioactive gasses over in Unit 3 went through a pipe that connected Unit 4 and entered Unit 4 causing Unit 4 to explode. So Tokyo Electric's position is that the radioactive hydrogen that was created in Unit 3 went through a pipe, entered Unit 4, and there it exploded. There is one piece of evidence that supports that. There is some contamination in some filters in Unit 4 that would indicate that gasses did come from Unit 3.
So that is a possibility, but I do not think it is accurate because I believe that the containment was so damaged on Unit 3, that there was no pressure to push those gasses into Unit 4. I can't understand how the gasses, what the mode of force was to push those gasses into Unit 4. I think the hydrogen explosion came from something in side Unit 4 itself. There are two possibilities there.
One is by Dr. Gen Saji and it is an excellent analysis. He believes that the hydrogen in the water in the pool that was dissolved because of the radiation in the pool over months and months and months, was enough to cause the building to explode. As the water got hot in the fuel pool, it liberated the hydrogen that was in the water and that hydrogen was enough to cause the explosion.
The second possibility, and this is my theory, early on in the accident, there is some video that is up on our site, that shows that the top of the fuel racks were exposed to air. I am not suggesting that the entire fuel pool ran dry. But the top of the nuclear fuel I believe was exposed to air and I think the photos show that. So if the top of the fuel was exposed to air, it is possible that a reaction could have occurred at the top of the fuel that would have created enough hydrogen to blow the building up.
Dr. Saji and I agree that the hydrogen came from the Unit 4 fuel pool. He believes it was dissolved in the water. I believe it came from the fuel. Only time will tell when we get in to analyze the reaction. But there is an important lesson here that the nuclear industry is not taking into account. And that is the fuel pool temperature. The fuel pool is a large pool and it can boil locally. And that is something the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the international community is not looking at. You can get local boiling in a pool even though the bulk temperature of the pool may be at 80 degrees Celsius. In portions of the pool, it can be boiling. That supports Dr. Saji's comment that as it boiled it would liberate hydrogen, even though the bulk temperature never ever exceeded boiling.
My theory is that I do believe that the entire pool had drained to the point where there was boiling occurring. But the real issue here is that the nuclear industry is not looking at the fact that localized boiling can occur even though the bulk temperature might be less than 100 degrees centigrade.
That is an important distinction moving forward. We have about 23 of these Mark I reactors in the United States and there are another 10 or so around the world. I think that we need to design these pools so that the hydrogen generated by dissociation can be accommodated without exploding the building. No one ever designed for that because no one ever anticipated it happening. But it did happen at Unit 4 and we need to prevent that in the future. Not just on these Mark I reactors but on the 400 reactors that all have fuel pools that are all susceptible to that identical type of failure.
Maggie Gundersen: Arnie, I want to follow up with a few more questions. In your discussion of Unit 4, you have talked about its hydrogen explosion. Is there any chance of a prompt criticality or a hydrogen explosion now at Unit 4? Would anything cause it to release more fuel or more radioactivity?
Arnie Gundersen: The fuel in the fuel pool at Unit 4 has now been cooled for about a year after the accident and it had been removed a couple of months before that. So the fuel is becoming cooler. It still needs to be water-cooled for another 2 years, but it is much cooler than it was at the beginning of the accident. So the chances of hydrogen generation are much, much lower now than when the accident occurred. So I do not believe that we are going to see an explosion in the pool now, no matter what happens.
My biggest concern is that if the pool loses water, then it is an entirely different story. So if there is a large seismic event that causes the building to topple, or the pool to crack and the water to drain out, there is not enough cooling in the air of that fuel, and it will start to burn. Now the consequences of that are depending on which way the wind is blowing, it could mean the evacuation of Tokyo as a worst case. It could also mean cutting Japan in half so that the northern part is separated from the southern part by a band of contamination. So this is a very serious accident waiting to happen and we just all have to pray that an earthquake does not happen before that fuel is removed.
Maggie Gundersen: Arnie, compared to the accident at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, how dangerous are the radioactive releases from the four reactors at Fukushima-Daiichi?
Arnie Gundersen: Three Mile Island was a level 5 accident and Chernobyl and Fukushima are level 7 accidents. That means roughly that Three Mile Island was a 100 times less than the accident at Chernobyl and the accident at Fukushima. People did die as a result of the accident at Three Mile Island. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says no, no one died, on their web page. But the evidence is clear that there was an increase in cancer. I refer you to Dr. Steve Wing's report that is also on our site that talks about it. And in addition some reports coming out of the University of Pittsburgh indicate just now that we are beginning to see leukemia as a result.
So while Three Mile Island was much less than either Chernobyl or Fukushima, people did die as a result of the radiation released. At Fukushima-Daiichi the evidence tells us that at least three times more radiation in the form of noble gasses were released from Units 1, 2 and 3 than from Chernobyl. We have seen radioactive gas clouds, noble gas clouds to the northwest, that are much worse than we ever anticipated to have been released. So we know that the noble gasses were larger than Chernobyl. Now iodine, which is another gas that is released, and also cesium and other gasses, seem to be roughly on the same level as the releases from Chernobyl.
There are 2 issues here. As terrible as it is, it would have been much worse but for 2 things. The first is that most of the time the wind was blowing out to sea. And of course Chernobyl was surrounded by land, so whatever way the plume meandered after Chernobyl, it contaminated the land. So when we compare Fukushima to Chernobyl, the total releases from Fukushima are likely higher than they were at Chernobyl, but because most of it blew out to sea, that is a good thing for the Japanese people.
The second important thing that happened that was lucky, if we can call it luck in such a severe accident, was that it happened on a Friday and not on a weekend. There were a thousand people at the Daini site and at the Daiichi site, because it was a weekday, who could respond to the accident. If it had happened on a weekend, there would have been a small crew of people there and the accidents at both sites would have been much much worse. Now that has an implication worldwide, because on weekends and in the evenings, we have very small crews at these nuclear reactors. And should there be a major accident, there is no way to respond quickly enough with the small crew of people that are working on the shifts, other than the main shift in the middle of the day.
The international community needs to look at that and it is not a matter of well, we can get people there in a half a day. That is too late. The staff on site has to be larger at the beginning of the accident to mitigate the potential for a serious accident. But yet it all boils down to money. The utilities that run these power plants really do not want a large staff because they have to pay for it. But in fact, it was the large staff at Daiichi and the large staff at Daini that likely saved the world. So the important take-away here is that the releases from Fukushima are as serious if not more so than Chernobyl. And that they would have been much worse if the accident had happened on a weekend.
Maggie Gundersen: Arnie, thank you. How significant is the danger of hot particles and why?
<strong>Arnie Gundersen:</strong> I am really concerned about the hot particles that were released after the Fukushima accident. Now a hot particle is more than just a single atom. An atom of cesium decays once and it is over, it is no longer radioactive. A hot particle though, contains thousands or hundreds of thousands of atoms of cesium or other radioactive material and they, of course, decay for many, many years and decades.
So if a hot particle is lodged inside you, either in your lung or in your liver or in your gastrointestinal tract, it can cause a constant bombardment of radiation over a long period of time to a very small localized part of your tissue. And that is exactly the conditions that can cause a cancer.
So we have seen in Mr Kaltofen's analysis to the American Public Health Association: he shows what an air filter looked like in a car in Fukushima and what an air filter looked like in a car in Tokyo. Those air filters are no different than our lung, our lung acts as an air filter, and that causes that radiation to get trapped in our lungs or in our livers or elsewhere in our bodies, and will constantly, over decades, cause cellular damage. It is particularly a concern in young children because they have a longer life, and because their cells are rapidly developing. So it is important that we monitor the children at Fukushima and throughout Japan over the next 3 or 4 decades to make sure that they do not develop cancers as a result of the hot particles that were released from Fukushima-Daiichi.
Maggie Gundersen: So Arnie, in closing, what do you want people to remember from your review of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi?
Arnie Gundersen: About a month before the accident, we were walking and we were talking about an accident and where it might occur. And I said I did not know where it would occur, but I thought it would occur in a boiling water reactor of the Fukushima design, I said a Mark I reactor. And it turned out to be true.
But I think the bigger lesson from Fukushima is that this is a technology that can destroy a nation. After Fukushima I was reading Mikolai Gorbachov's memoirs and he says it was the Chernobyl accident, not Perestroika, that destroyed the Soviet Union. So we had that information for 30 years but yet we really did not realize that it could happen elsewhere. So we know that the accident at Chernobyl was a cause in the factor of the collapse of the Soviet Union. And we know that the cost alone from the Fukushima-Daiichi accident will easily go to a half a trillion US dollars over the next 20 years. That is enough to bring Japan to its knees.
Japan is at a tipping point. You have an opportunity here to change the way we use energy. Or Japan can go back and turn on all its nuclear reactors again and continue business as usual and of course risk another accident. So you have a choice, you have the opportunity to change the way you use energy and to change the way you distribute energy. You can create smart grids that share power from the north to the south and from the east to the west, where the frequencies are different. We can distribute our generation, instead of having massive power plants in locations like Fukushima-Daiichi and Fukushima-Danai. We can distribute those power plants throughout Japan, throughout the world, with windmills, with solar power, with conservation and with distributed small sources of generation.
Those are all one way of doing it compared to the other which we are presently using, which is central station power. We needed central station power in the 20th century. Now with computers, we do not need central station power anymore. We can do it another way. And Japan can lead the way if it chooses to. If it leads the way, it will have an export commodity that the rest of the world will want desperately. You have an opportunity here to change your country. And you also have a business opportunity here to sell to the rest of the world a product that we all desperately need.
So the Fukushima-Daiichi accident is the worst industrial accident in history: it is a half a trillion dollars. But it also can be an opportunity for Japan to change the way it does business and to create the economy for the 21st century and beyond with distributed generation and smart grids. I hope you choose that choice. Japan is at a tipping point and it is your choice to make.